A stout Towson University defense picked off four Chris Ferguson passes leading to 21 points Saturday night as the eighth-ranked Tigers snapped the University of Maine’s six-game home winning streak with a 45-23 Colonial Athletic Association football victory at Morse Field.
Towson All-America quarterback Tom Flacco lived up to his billing as a dual threat and running back Yeedee Thaenrat ran for four touchdowns — despite only 24 rushing yards.
It was the first time in UMaine history that two football teams ranked in the top 10 played in Orono.
Towson (3-0) is off to its best start since 2013 when it reached the Football Championship Subdivision championship game. UMaine, ranked No. 7, fell to
1-2 with its second straight loss.
“They’re a good football team,” UMaine head coach Nick Charlton said. “But we turned the ball over too much and we didn’t force turnovers. We have to play better and I have to coach better. This was very, very disappointing.”
Ferguson, a junior, completed 28 of 49 passes for 401 yards, but was victimized by the four interceptions. The Tigers made UMaine one-dimensional, as the Black Bears managed only 68 rushing yards on 19 carries.
“I can’t remember the last time we forced this many turnovers in a game, let alone a season,” said Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. “I was extremely pleased with the defense.”
On offense, Towson unveiled a versatile attack led by Flacco. The 2018 CAA Offensive Player of the Year completed 20 of 34 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. He also was the leading rusher (seven carries, 68 yards).
“We didn’t contain [Flacco]. He ran the ball well,” UMaine linebacker Taji Lowe said. “They were very efficient.
The elusive Flacco said it was a matter of executing the game plan.
“We knew there were spots that were available. The offensive line did an awesome job creating holes for the running game and in pass protection,” Flacco said.
Thaenrat, a Tennessee Tech transfer, is power back who complements shifty first-team All-America running back Shane Simpson. He scored on runs of 1, 1, 2 and 3 yards.
Simpson suffered a leg injury midway through the first quarter and didn’t return.
Shane Leatherbury caught six passes for 63 yards, and Chris Clark had four for 64 yards for Towson.
Safety Steven Brown registered a game-high nine tackles, and safety Coby Tippett and linebacker Christian Dixon posted eight each.
Edwards made six catches for 116 yards to lead UMaine. Andre Miller, Devin Young and Jaquan Blair caught five balls apiece. Cornerback Manny Patterson, linebacker Myles Taylor and end Kayon Whitaker logged eight tackles each.
The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Thaenrat, who scored five touchdowns all of last season, gave Towson the lead for good (17-13) with a 1-yard run with 1:41 left in the first half.
Kenny Doak’s 44-yard field goal 4:34 into the second half cut the lead to 17-16, but the Tigers scored four unanswered touchdowns to cruise to the victory.
Flacco spearheaded a five-play, 73-yard drive that expanded the lead to 24-16 by completing four straight passes including a 38-yarder to Clark and a 19-yarder to Kobe Young.
Thaenrat ran it in from the 2-yard line.
After a UMaine punt, Flacco engineered a seven-play, 77-yard drive featuring a 36-yard completion to Leatherbury followed by 9-yard touchdown pass to Clark with 1:09 remaining in the third period that made it 31-16.
The Black Bears then marched to Towson’s 39-yard line but linebacker Keon Paye intercepted a Ferguson pass and dashed 73 yards down to the UM-1. Thaenrat converted on the next play.
“I saw their running back spread out wide and I watched where he was going so I jumped [the pass],” Paye said.
“That was one me. I’ve got to make a better read,” Ferguson said.
Towson’s fourth interception, this one by Robert Heyward on a ball that was juggled by UMaine’s Jacob Hennie, eventually led to Young’s 10-yard TD run.
Joe Fitzpatrick scored a consolation touchdown from a yard out for UMaine.
Two stalled UMaine drives deep into Towson territory in the first quarter forced the Black Bears to settle for Kenny Doak field goals of 30 and 45 yards.
“They scored touchdowns on six of their eight drives into the red zone [inside the 20-yard line], and we had to settle for field goals,” Charlton said.
On the ensuing drive, the Tigers took their first lead of the game with an eight-play, 63-yard march. It was highlighted by a 36-yard pass from Flacco to Caleb Smith that set up Thaenrat’s 3-yard scoring run.
The Black Bears’ inability to pick up a first down after being in a second-and-1 situation late in the first period proved costly as Towson stuffed Fitzpatrick on a fourth-and-1.
It eventually led to Aidan O’Neil 26-yard field goal.
The Black Bears responded with an eight-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by Ferguson’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Edwards.
After O’Neill missed a 46-yard field goal, the Tigers got the ball right back on Tippett’s interception.
A pass interference call on Patterson on a third-and-11 gave Towson the ball at the UM-7 and Thaenrat scored from the one to give Towson the lead for good.
UMaine lost the services of junior linebacker Jaron Grayer in the second period as he re-injured his shoulder.
UMaine plays at 0-3 Colgate on Saturday.