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Big plays were at the center of the University of Maine’s 35-21 non-conference football victory over Colgate on Saturday at Andy Kerr Stadium in Hamilton, New York.
So it should come as no surprise that Earnest Edwards was in the middle of things.
The senior wideout from Rochester, New York, returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and added a third score on a long pass reception as the Black Bears ended a two-game losing streak while sending winless Colgate to its fourth defeat of the season.
Both of Edwards’ kick returns came in the third quarter, a 100-yard runback on the second-half kickoff and a 95-yard sprint after Colgate had cut the deficit to 28-14 on an 18-yard run by Alex Mathews.
Edwards’ big plays on offense and special teams were complemented by a UMaine defense that harassed two Colgate quarterbacks for eight sacks — the most for the team since nine against Delaware in October 2012.
Max Roberts led the quarterback attack with 2 1/2 sacks, while Kayon Whitaker made two sacks among his seven tackles and Jamehl Wiley contributed 1 1/2 sacks.
Taji Lowe posted a career-best 12 tackles for UMaine while Adrian Otero logged 10 tackles, also a career best.
Colgate did outgain UMaine in total yardage 320-317, but the Black Bears limited the Raiders to to a 3-of-13 success rate on third-down conversions.
“Overall there were some really good things [on defense] but I just felt like we could have been a little bit better, which is hard to say, especially when you have eight sacks,” said UMaine coach Nick Charlton, whose team returns to conference play next Saturday at Villanova.
“Some really good things went on out there, but everyone knows we can do better in a lot of areas.”
One other area where UMaine showed improvement was its running game. After averaging just 60 rushing yards in back-to-back losses to Georgia Southern and Towson, the Black Bears ground out a season-high 152 yards on 35 carries — or 4.3 yards per attempt.
Senior Joe Fitzpatrick of North Yarmouth led the way with 102 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, while Emmanuel Reed added 62 yards and a score on 15 attempts.
Quarterback Chris Ferguson completed 8 of 19 passes for 165 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Fitzpatrick’s touchdown came on UMaine’s first possession of the game, capping a 13-play, 76-yard drive after Colgate missed a 41-yard field-goal try on its opening series.
UMaine’s first five offensive plays were on the ground, as were 10 total plays during a drive culminated by a 1-yard TD run by the former Cheverus of Portland high school standout for a 7-0 Black Bears lead with 2:00 left in the opening quarter.
A 23-yard pass from Ferguson to Old Town’s Andre Miller on third-and-4 helped keep that drive alive.
“I thought we ran the ball really well on the first drive and in some really good spots,” Charlton said. “That [running game] was solid, it was better and it needs to be better.”
Reed scored on a 5-yard run to make it 14-0 midway through the second quarter before Colgate scored after the Raiders’ Collin Heard intercepted a Ferguson pass at the UMaine 27.
Three plays later, Jake Froschauer completed a 28-yard pass to Nick Diaco to close the gap to 14-7 before Edwards helped UMaine take control.
The Black Bears took over at their 25 and Ferguson passed to Devin Young for a 20-yard gain that was advanced to the Colgate 40 when the Raiders were whistled for a personal foul.
Ferguson connected with Edwards for a touchdown on the next play to extend the UMaine lead to 21-7 with 49 seconds left in the half.
Edwards broke the game open at the outset of the second half with his second career 100-yard kickoff return, and suddenly the Black Bears had a 28-7 cushion.
“That whole sequence was important and that’s why we always talk so much about momentum and big plays and explosives,” Charlton said. “To get the ball back after they scored to make it 14-7 and go down the field pretty quickly to score on an explosive play and then score again on the [second-half) kickoff was a big deal.
“That momentum surge is probably what won the game.”
Edwards went the distance a second time from 95 yards out later in the period for his school-record sixth career kickoff return TD.
Edwards’ 198 kickoff return yards for the game eclipsed his previous school record of 188 yards set last fall against Elon.
Colgate’s final score came on a 44-yard run by Nick Draught with 8:59 left in the game.