ORONO — A month ago, the University of Maine football team allowed 300-plus rushing yards at James Madison and still prevailed.
Saturday afternoon, the Black Bears could not contain Towson University’s potent run game and it proved their undoing.
The Tigers gashed the Bears routinely, rolled up 334 rushing yards and forced three turnovers to post a 40-30 Colonial Athletic Association victory at chilly Alfond Stadium.
No. 14 Towson (7-2, 5-1 CAA) rebounded from a loss against Delaware to forge a first-place tie in the league standings along with UMaine (7-2, 5-1 CAA) and New Hampshire (7-2, 5-1 CAA).
The Tigers and Black Bears play UNH the next two weeks, respectively, with the conference championship and the NCAA automatic berth likely to be on the line.
The loss ended No. 7 UMaine’s winning streak at six games and delayed the Bears’ bid to solidify a Football Championship Subdivision playoff spot.
“This is definitely going to be fuel to the fire,” said Bears senior defensive tackle Raibonne Charles of Windham. “I hate to see this happen, this one really hurts, but as far as this one affecting the rest of the season, we’re going to do what we do and take it one week at a time and go back to work as usual.”
Terrance West amassed 183 yards on 21 carries, including scoring runs of 8, 2 and 4 yards, and Tremayne Dameron netted 109 yards on 19 attempts, with a 19-yard TD jaunt, to set the tone for the Tigers.
“They’ve done that to everybody,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove.
“They can run the football with anybody,” he said. “They’re tough to tackle, too. That’s the other element that separates them.”
UMaine committed two turnovers that led directly to Towson touchdowns and missed a field goal that would have made it a seven-point game early in the fourth quarter. The Bears didn’t make enough of the big plays they had used to overcome adversity in games this season.
“We did some things that obviously we’re not happy with, turnovers and penalties that obviously have not been part of us, although lately we have dipped in that direction,” Cosgrove said.
Senior quarterback Warren Smith went 26-for-41 passing good for 256 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted twice and was sacked three times.
Damarr Aultman made eight catches for 117 yards, among them a 53-yard scoring reception, and Arthur Williams grabbed seven balls for 47 yards and a 3-yard TD.
Tailback David Hood, subbing for injured senior Pushaun Brown (thigh), gained 85 yards on 23 carries.
However, a critical fumble and two interceptions prevented the Bears from establishing a consistent rhythm and jammed their effort to win what proved to be a shootout.
Senior linebacker Vinson Givans posted 14 tackles for the Bears, while safety Trevor Coston and junior linebacker Troy Russell had 11 each and Jerron McMillian added nine.
Towson led 20-9 at halftime, but UMaine opened the third quarter with a 57-yard scoring drive capped by Hood’s 1-yard TD run. Brian Harvey’s PAT made it 20-16.
The Tigers needed only six plays to go 72 yards and restore a 10-point edge. Grant Enders hit a wide-open Dameron on a 33-yard throwback pass to the right side with 7:23 left in the third.
Towson padded the lead when Kenton Powell picked off Smith and returned it 30 yards. Enders’ 2-yard plunge three plays later made it 33-16.
UMaine responded when, after a short squib kick, Damarr Aultman took a short toss from Smith, broke the grasp of two would-be tacklers and cut back across the field to complete a 53-yard TD hookup. Harvey’s PAT got the Bears back within 33-23 with 13:09 to play.
A minute later, UMaine end Mike Cole sacked Enders and forced a fumble, which Erwin Roach picked up and took to the Towson 27.
However, the Bears couldn’t convert when Harvey’s 42-yard field-goal attempt into the wind came up just short.
“We had a shot after the turnover. I’m disappointed with myself in taking a shot a the field goal, even though it was the right thing to do,” Cosgrove said.
The Tigers iced it, marching 75 yards on 10 plays and consuming 5:22 before West scored on a 4-yard run to make it 40-23.
UMaine scored again on a 3-yard toss from Smith to Art Williams, but it was too little, too late.
West’s 8-yard scoring run capped a 66-yard drive that put Towson ahead midway through the first quarter. The Bears answered with a 70-yard march capped by Smith’s nimble, 15-yard scramble.
UMaine handed Towson a score on its next possession when Hood fumbled at the 10-yard line. West’s 2-yard run 45 seconds into the second quarter made it 14-7 and Towson never trailed after that.
The Tigers padded the lead with 6:27 left in the first half, capitalizing on a 19-yard punt by Jordan Waxman. West bolted 48 yards on the first play, then Dameron scored from 19 yards out two plays later.
UMaine softened the blow when Cole blocked the PAT kick and Coston returned it approximately 85 yards for two points. That made it 20-9 Towson.
The Bears also had a late field-goal try blocked to prevent their reducing the deficit further.