DURHAM, New Hampshire — Quarterback Chris Ferguson passed for 239 yards with three touchdowns in his first career start, but the University of Maine was unable to cash in on some scoring opportunities as No. 13 New Hampshire held off the Black Bears 24-23 on Thursday night at Wildcat Stadium in the Colonial Athletic Association opener for both teams.
Josh Mack was the workhorse for the Black Bears as he went over the 100-yard rushing mark for the fourth time in his career, finishing with 27 carries for 103 yards. Mack also added five receptions for 20 yards.
A pair of Ferguson’s touchdown passes found Jaleel Reed, who finished the game with four receptions. Jared Osumah was the prime target for the Black Bears, hauling in a career-high six catches for 72 yards. Drew Belcher, who was recently transformed from quarterback to tight end, added four catches for 67 yards.
Jaron Grayer led the Black Hole defense, making 10 tackles with a sack in his first career start. Preseason All-Conference picks Najee Goode (9) and Sterling Sheffield (7) also produced solid outings on the defensive side.
Maine outgained New Hampshire through the air but the Wildcats held the overall narrow edge in total offense, 383-352. For the 19th time in the last 20 meetings, the team that finished with the most net rush yards won the contest.
New Hampshire wasted no time getting on the board, taking the opening drive 68 yards capped with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Trevor Knight to Nick Lorden.
The Black Bears and Ferguson had the early answer. Mack gave the Black Bears great field position after taking his first carry 34 yards, followed by a gain of 11 down to the New Hampshire 36-yard line. Ferguson made his first career completion when he hit Osumah for a 21-yard gain. The redshirt freshman converted on a fourth down pass to Brenden O’Neil before finding Reed in the end zone for the score. The four-yard score marked the first touchdown pass of Ferguson’s career.
The Wildcats regained the lead with some late first-quarter trickery. Knight hit receiver Neil O’Connor with a backwards pass before O’Connor aired out a throw of his own, finding Malik Love for a 60-yard score.
Ferguson and the Black Bears took over with 11:33 left in the half after the Maine defense forced a New Hampshire punt. Ferguson found former quarterback Belcher for his first career reception. The 16-yard strike moved the Black Bears to the New Hampshire 37-yard line.
Facing a third-and-12, Ferguson slung a pass out to a streaking Edwards who carried down to the Wildcat 20. The drive would stall, bringing in freshman Kenny Doak to try his first career field goal attempt. Doak split the uprights from 35 yards to close the gap to 14-10 with 8:31 on the clock.
The Wildcats went back up by seven when Max Pedinoff converted a 26-yard field goal late in the second quarter.
Maine looked to answer before the half as Mack carried 28 yards to the New Hampshire 32 before Edwards ran to the 12 on a reverse. The Black Bears were forced to try a field goal but the attempt was blocked, leaving them trailing 17-10 at halftime.
The Black Hole defense came up with a big play in the third quarter when Darrius Hart hauled down his fourth career interception. Maine, which began the drive on the New Hampshire 33-yard line, wasted no time finding the end zone.
Ferguson and Reed hooked up for the second time as the Black Bears roared back to tie the game 17-17 with 5:11 to play in the third quarter.
Knight and the Wildcats regained a seven-point edge when the New Hampshire quarterback completed a 14-play, 75-yard drive with his second touchdown pass of the evening, this time finding Rory Donovan for the score early in the fourth quarter.
Ferguson and the offense settled in and began the Black Bears’ 11th drive of the game on their own 25. A 13-yard strike to Jared Osumah and a 29-yard hit to Belcher moved Maine to the New Hampshire 22. Maine, facing a third down, was helped by a defensive pass interference call in the end zone. With the ball at the 2, Maine was unable to score on two rushes before Ferguson found Jason Simonovich for a 4-yard touchdown. However, Maine’s PAT try missed wide left, leaving the Black Bears trailing 24-23 with 9:07 remaining in regulation.