For years, coach Jack Cosgrove has harped to his players on the importance of playing the full 60 minutes and finishing games well.
His University of Maine football team is taking that challenge to heart this season.
The latest example of the Black Bears’ never-say-die mentality came Saturday, when they scored 23 fourth-quarter points to pull out a 23-22 Colonial Athletic Association victory at No. 18 Richmond.
UMaine (6-1 overall, 4-0 CAA), which is ranked No. 8 in this week’s The Sports Network/Fathead.com top 25 poll, wiped out a 16-point deficit to register a come-from-behind win for the third time in four weeks.
“I can’t be prouder of the guys for finishing the game the way we did,” Cosgrove said Monday.
He said the experience and leadership of the seniors is a pivotal component in the Bears’ routine resilience in three wins over top-20 teams.
“(They) have invested a lot of time, effort and energy up here and are tremendous influences on their teammates,” Cosgrove said. “You can only do so much as a coach, then the locker room takes over and the locker room took over for us.”
On Oct. 1, the Bears scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to pull away from then-No. 5 Delaware (31-17) at Orono. UMaine drove 47 yards at No. 6 James Madison on Oct. 8 to tie the game with 44 seconds left in the fourth quarter, before winning 25-24 in overtime on a two-point conversion run by Chris Treister.
Behind senior quarterback Warren Smith, the Bears scored 17 points in the last 13:07 Saturday to post their fifth straight victory and remain tied with Towson (6-1, 4-0 CAA) atop the CAA standings.
“I was more concerned about just resurrecting ourselves and playing better football,” Cosgrove said.
Again, UMaine’s offense, defense and special teams complemented each other well.
Sophomore defensive end Mike Cole blocked two extra points, the second of which was returned for two points at a critical juncture.
“It really is about to become a (16-point) game until we block the extra point, which is the second one of the day, and then Jerron McMillian scoops and goes and scores for us and now it’s back to a two-score game and we’re resurrected, in a way, because it’s (13) minutes left in the football game and we’ve got a chance,” Cosgrove said.
That play came after a 53-yard interception return set Richmond up for what might have been a back-breaking touchdown. Instead of 23-7, the deficit was 22-9.
Cole was a force at defensive end and helped the Bears change the tone of the game in the second half. He made three tackles, including two second-half sacks among five on the day for UMaine.
“It really came down to the individual efforts,” Cosgrove said. “I thought Mike Cole was our best player on the field Saturday, just relentless throughout the course of the game.”
Junior end Erwin Roach also had two sacks among his five tackles.
UMaine had played quite a bit of zone coverage in the first half, but had difficulty containing Richmond quarterback Aaron Corp and Tre Gray, the Spiders’ all-time leading receiver.
The Bears decided to change tactics at halftime.
“We made some significant adjustments,” Cosgrove said. “Our defensive staff, I thought, did a nice job at halftime.”
UMaine became more aggressive and went after the Spiders.
“In the second half we kind of lived by the sword, died by the sword, with some more pressure,” Cosgrove said.
As a result, Corp had less time to throw and the receivers fewer chances to get open quickly.
The Bears’ offense overcame three turnovers, including two Smith interceptions, while the defense allowed only seven second-half points.
Smith (31-for-51, 289 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) and wide receiver Maurice McDonald (11 second-half catches, 96 yds.) spearheaded the final two scoring drives, which covered a combined 24 plays, 136 yards and 7:53 off the clock to pull out the victory.
“I felt that air of confidence from our defense that we would be able to go out and get a stop and from our offense that we would finish drives finally and that’s what happened,” Cosgrove said.
BACKUP HOOD HITS HOLES
When a nagging thigh injury forced UMaine senior tailback Pushaun Brown to the sideline again Saturday, the Bears needed production from their backups.
After sophomore backup Terrel Walker suffered an ankle injury on special teams early in the game, David Hood was called upon to step to the forefront.
The redshirt freshman carried 13 times for 77 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown to provide UMaine with a complement to its passing attack.
“He scored a nice touchdown, a very tough touchdown for us, was very instrumental,” Cosgrove said. “(His) protection in the backfield was solid.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with what he did coming into that football game,” he added.