ORONO, Maine — Big game. Large crowd. Huge disappointment.
The University of Maine football team may have nearly twice the scholarships as the University at Albany, but once the players are between the lines, it’s execution that counts.
The Great Danes demonstrated Saturday night why they are worthy of admittance next season into the Colonial Athletic Association, handing the 22nd-ranked Black Bears a 30-20 setback on Morse Field.
“We want to prove that we can play in the CAA and I hope we answered some questions tonight,” said UAlbany senior tailback Drew Smith, who ran for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
A lively crowd of 7,101 that turned out at Alfond Stadium to watch its team win, instead saw UAlbany (3-1) outperform UMaine (1-2) in all facets of the game.
“You’ve got to get a win for the supporters so, obviously, it was a disappointment,” said UMaine junior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski. “Hopefully, they’ve still got our backs and will come out and support us again in the next one.”
It was the third win over UMaine in four years for UAlbany, which operates with 38 scholarship equivalencies compared with the Black Bears’ 63, the Football Championship Subdivision maximum.
Coming off a seven-point loss last week at No. 5 Youngstown State, UAlbany of the Northeast Conference showed again that it is a formidable FCS program.
“I was telling everybody before [the game], almost isn’t good enough,” said senior linebacker Jon Morgan. “We just have to finish. We have to be the team that we know we can be. I think we’re a good contender.”
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears were unable to generate much offense in the first half, then encountered defensive difficulties in the second half.
UMaine also was plagued by penalties (9 for 95 yards), including two holds, two personal fouls and an unsportsmanlike conduct call.
“That’ll be addressed,” Cosgrove said. “You want to point to a lack of discipline, it shows up in penalties.”
The Bears’ defense held UAlbany to three field goals in the first half. Sean Kenny’s kicks came from 44, 39 and 25 yards, the last of which made it 9-0 as time expired in the first half.
Meanwhile, the Maine offense managed only six first downs and 128 yards before intermission against a hard-charging Great Danes defense.
The Bears found a better offensive rhythm in the second half after re-establishing the run game behind junior tailback Ricky Stevens (20 carries, 83 yards). Starter David Hood missed the game with an undisclosed injury.
Wasilewski (23-for-36, 264 yds., 2 TDs, 1 interception) went 16-for-21 in the second half, including eight completions to senior wide receiver Maurice McDonald (11 receptions, 93 yds.).
“I thought in second half we got better at our execution and it just appeared that things were opening up for us,” Wasilewski said.
However, UMaine twice settled for field goals and was not able to stop the Great Danes. UAlbany broke a big play in the third quarter, then tacked on two fourth-quarter TDs to put the game away.
UMaine opened the third quarter with a 10-play, 69-yard drive. A 20-yard completion from Wasilewski to McDonald helped set up a 19-yard scoring strike from Wasilewski to Damarr Aultman. Brian Harvey’s PAT cut UAlbany’s lead to 9-7.
On the Great Danes’ next play, wideout Kevin Chillis went in motion from the left side, took a handoff and raced around right end for a 74-yard touchdown that restored UAlbany’s momentum and made it 15-7.
“They did it the first play of the game and they opened it up again the second half,” said UMaine linebacker Donte Dennis. “We weren’t ready for it, I guess. They got one.”
The Black Bears responded, driving 68 yards for a 31-yard field goal by Harvey that cut the deficit to 16-10 with 4:10 left in the third quarter.
The Great Danes countered, marching 66 yards on eight plays, aided by a pass interference penalty. Smith ran around right end and hurdled cornerback Darlos James on his way to a score that made it 23-10.
Undaunted, a 48-yard pass from Wasilewski to Derrick Johnson and a personal foul penalty helped move the Bears to the UAlbany 8. UMaine settled for Harvey’s 30-yard field goal at the 11:59 mark.
“I thought we needed to get points,” Cosgrove said. “It was a two-score game. I thought there was plenty of time then.”
Ninety-two seconds later, a muffed punt by McDonald gave UAlbany the ball at the UMaine 17. Two plays after that, Kendall James intercepted Will Fiacchi (13-for-29, 132 yds.) at the 3. However, the Bears punted and the Great Danes took over at the UM 36.
Smith’s 28-yard TD jaunt up the middle finished off UMaine, making it 30-13 with 5:48 to play.
“We made too many mistakes on defense and we just can’t do that,” Dennis said.
UMaine scored again on Wasilewski’s 5-yard pass to Johnson, but the 10-point deficit was insurmountable with 2:15 left.