VILLANOVA, Pa. — The University of Maine has considered the colder northern New England weather to be an ally against late-season football opponents who play in Orono, Maine.
That said, the Black Bears weren’t expecting to have to deal with their opponent and a snowstorm during Saturday’s Colonial Athletic Association game at Villanova.
UMaine conquered both foes Saturday, scoring 21 unanswered second-half points to earn a 41-25 victory over the Wildcats at snow-covered Villanova Stadium.
“It was crazy, man,” UMaine senior quarterback Warren Smith said of the cold, snowy, windy conditions. “I’ve never played in snow like that.”
It was the sixth consecutive victory for coach Jack Cosgrove’s eighth-ranked Black Bears, who are off to the program’s best start since 1989. UMaine (7-1, 5-0 CAA) is alone in first place after Delaware beat Towson 35-30 Saturday night.
UMaine and Towson play Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Alfond Stadium in Orono.
Smith shook off the cold and snow to complete 17 of 22 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns. He was not intercepted. He also ran for 74 yards on 10 carries.
“The last drive I dropped like two snaps, but luckily I got on top of them,” Smith said. “I kept my hand warmer on me and I had a lot of layers on.”
Junior wideout Maurice McDonald made eight receptions for 98 yards and a TD, while senior tailback Pushaun Brown carried 18 times for 75 yards and two scores.
“It was freezing out there,” Brown said. “You had to keep moving. We knew they (the Wildcats) didn’t want to be out there. We wanted to win more than them.”
UMaine only outgained Villanova (1-8, 0-6 CAA) 410 yards to 405, but the Bears stopped the Wildcats three times inside the 10-yard line.
Senior safety Jerron McMillian made 10 tackles, including a key, fourth-down sack, to pace the UMaine defense. Senior tackle Kevin Phanor made six tackles and senior safety Trevor Coston notched his fifth interception of the season.
Villanova gave UMaine a tussle for a half, but the Bears’ stingy defense and their big-play offense broke the game open in the second half.
The defense was resilient, halting the Wildcats on a long drive that ended with a missed field goal at the UMaine 10-yard line and stopping the hosts on the next possession on a fourth-down sack by Jerron McMillian (10 tackles) at the UM 7.
The offense didn’t see the field much in that third quarter, running only nine plays, but it made them count.
On the first play after the missed field goal, Smith found Arthur Williams alone down the right hashmarks for an 80-yard touchdown pass. Brian Harvey’s PAT gave UMaine a 20-6 lead with 9:38 left in the quarter.
The Bears responded after the second stop to go 85 yards on three plays. A 51-yard completion from Smith to Derek Session set up a 29-yard scoring scamper by Smith that made it 28-6.
“That’s one of the biggest things is playing together,” Brown said. “When the defense makes big stops for us, we’ve got to come out and try to put points on the board for them.”
UMaine ran only nine plays in the third quarter.
Villanova responded with a five-play march culminating in a 55-yard TD pass from Chris Polony to Dorian Wells that made it 28-12 late in the third.
That’s when the Bears embarked on a 15-play, 69-yard drive that consumed nearly 7 1/2 minutes. UMaine converted two third downs and one fourth-down play before tailback Pushaun Brown scored from three yards out to put the Bears on top 34-12 with 10:36 to play.
UMaine took a 7-0 lead on its second possession when Coston’s interception and 25-yard return led to a 33-yard TD toss from Smith to a wide-open McDonald with 5:36 gone in the quarter.
Villanova tried to answer, but Mark Hamilton’s 23-yard field-goal try hit the left upright.
The Wildcats scored late in the second quarter with an 11-play march that included a successful fake-punt run. This time, Austin Medley (17 carries, 100 yds.) scored on a 6-yard run, but Hamilton’s PAT was blocked.
UMaine countered by racing 60 yards on seven plays. Smith completed four throws to McDonald for 47 yards before Brown peeled off a 10-yard TD run. A bad snap led to a failed conversion pass that left UMaine on top 13-6.
“We really emphasized ball security and everything would take care of itself,” Smith said. “When the plays were called, we executed.”
Eric Loper and Jerry Miles made seven tackles each to pace Villanova.