ORONO, Maine — The Colonial Athletic Association is an unforgiving arena for football teams that don’t play to their potential.
Those that take advantage of their opportunities and limit mistakes win. Those that don’t pay the consequences.
The University of Maine fell into the latter category Saturday night.
The Black Bears threatened to knock off 17th-ranked Towson on the road, but were undone by a critical fumble, a crucial penalty and a general lack of execution.
“We were absolutely going to steal a win,” UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove said in the wake of the defeat. “We just did some things we couldn’t afford to do.”
UMaine (2-4, 1-2 CAA) is back in preparation mode with 12th-ranked border rival New Hampshire (5-2, 3-1 CAA) headed to Orono for Saturday’s noon Homecoming contest at Alfond Stadium.
At Towson, the most glaring errors both occurred in the fourth quarter. However, it could be argued the Black Bears were fortunate to be close at all after the Tigers missed on three first-half field goals and had an interception returned 92 yards for a touchdown.
Trailing 17-10, the UMaine offense restored hope as it cranked out an impressive drive that covered 81 yards on 21 plays. UMaine found its rhythm while controlling the ball for 9 minutes, 4 seconds.
The Bears got all the way to the Towson 2-yard line, but it all went for naught.
An issue on the handoff between tailback David Hood and quarterback Marcus Wasilewski resulted in a fumble that was recovered by the Tigers.
UMaine did take advantage of the field position as the defense forced a three-and-out. On the Black Bears’ ensuing possession Sean Decloux kicked a 28-yard field goal that made it a 17-13 game with 6:45 remaining.
UMaine’s upset bid appeared to gain further momentum when the defense held again at the Towson 21-yard line on the Tigers’ next series and forced a punt.
The Bears could not capitalize. On the punt, Sean Stevenson was called for roughing the kicker, giving the hosts a first down that led to the clinching TD four plays later.
“That might have been the dumbest penalty that I’ve ever been a part of,” Cosgrove said after the game.
UMaine was fortunate to have been in position to challenge for a win at all against Towson. The Tigers piled up 507 yards of offense and averaged 7.9 yards per play.
The Bears were again far too forgiving on defense, surrendering 247 yards on the ground. And big plays were frequent.
“[Saturday night] was one of those games where the defense was on the field a lot,” said UMaine linebacker Troy Eastman, who had the 92-yard interception return for a score. “For the most part, we were doing OK until a few slip-ups hurt us.”
Towson burned the Bears for 19 plays that covered at least 10 yards. That included eight runs of 14 yards or more and 11 passes that went for at least 10 yards.
The Tigers burned UMaine for seven plays of 25 yards or longer, including three runs.
“We just didn’t execute,” Cosgrove said. “When you play on the road in this league, you’ve got to execute.”
The Bears did exhibit some resilience as the offense put together a 13-play, 74-yard scoring drive in 2:19. Wasilewski’s touchdown scramble cut the deficit to five points, but the onside kick was unsuccessful.
Wasilewski did draw some consolation from the late-game response.
“It was another one of those situations where we never gave up,” he said. “I wish we were able to finish drives like that a little bit earlier in the game, but it’s just the way it went for us [Saturday night]. I’m proud of the guys for never giving up and finishing the way we did.”