University of Maine freshman quarterback Joe Fagnano threw for 445 yards and five touchdowns Saturday night in his first collegiate start. The performance for the Football Championship Subdivision Black Bears came against Liberty University of the talent-rich Football Bowl Subdivision.
But the Flames, in their second FBS season, scored six touchdowns and added a field goal among seven first-half possessions to build a 28-point halftime lead and withstood a second-half rally to post a 59-44 victory in Lynchburg, Virginia.
The Flames (5-2) won their fifth straight game while the Black Bears fell to 2-5.
It was the most points allowed by Liberty this season and UMaine outgained the hosts 572-487 at the Flames’ homecoming.
Liberty led 52-17 early in the third quarter but Fagnano and the determined Black Bears scored 20 unanswered points in a span of 2:15 bridging the third and fourth quarters to climb within 15.
They couldn’t get any closer.
UMaine head coach Nick Charlton called it a disappointing loss and felt it was a winnable game. He was pleased with his team’s comeback.
“That’s the culture we have built here. Unfortunately, we gave up too many points and didn’t score enough,” Charlton said.
He praised Fagnano, who completed 25 of 37 passes while filling in for injured junior starter Chris Ferguson (foot).
“Being a true freshman, there was so much put on him. Hats off to him. He was awesome,” Charlton said.
UMaine also had three receivers rack up more than 100 receiving yards and another reach 99 in Earnest Edwards (6 catches, 127 yards), Andre Miller (5-108), Devin Young (6-106) and Jaquan Blair (8-99).
“They’re exceptional players. They made plays on the ball,” Charlton said.
The Flames racked up 329 total yards in the first half with senior quarterback Stephen Calvert (23-for-35, 351 yds., 5 TDs) completing 17 of 24 passes for 261 yards and three scores. Antonio Gandy-Golden hauled in nine catchers for 149 yards.
UMaine was without preseason All-American cornerback Manny Patterson, who by rule had to sit out the first half because of a targeting penalty in the 24-17 loss to Richmond last Saturday.
”He’s an exceptional player. He has a presence out there,” Charlton said.
It took Liberty just four plays, all Calvert passes, to take the lead it would never relinquish, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to Noah Frith.
The Black Bears answered with a 23-yard field goal by Kenny Doak but Shedro Louis returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards to make it 14-3.
Alex Probert’s 36-yard field goal upped the lead to 17-3 before the Flames turned the first of two first-half turnovers by Fagnano into seven points just two minutes later.
Javon Scruggs returned a Fagnano fumble 29 yards to the UMaine 5-yard line to set up Peytton Pickett’s 1-yard TD run.
On UMaine’s next drive, an Isaac Steele interception was ultimately turned into seven points when Calvert hooked up with Troy Henderson on an 18-yard TD pass.
Fagnano threw a 28-yard scoring pass to Edwards with 8:15 left in the half to cut the deficit to 31-10 but the Black Bear defense couldn’t stop Liberty. The Flames responded with a 5yard TD pass from Calvert to Frankie Hickson (9 carries, 98 yds.).
UMaine answered with a 21-yard TD run by Joe Fitzpatrick with 2:12 left in the half but, again, Liberty drove down the field and former UMaine All-America running back Josh Mack (11 carries, 45 yds.) concluded a nine-play, 70-yard drive with a 2-yard run with 22 seconds left.
The Flames appeared to put the game away when they scored on their first drive of the second half on Calvert’s 7-yard TD toss to D.J. Stubbs.
But the Black Bears came alive.
Following UMaine’s first pass interception of the season, by Richard Carr, Blair took a Fagnano screen pass 29 yards for a touchdown with eight seconds left in the third quarter.
Myles Taylor then recovered Brian Cooey’s onside kick at UMaine’s 48 and Fagnano found Old Town’s Miller for a 43-yard TD pass seven seconds into the fourth period.
The UMaine defense forced a punt and Fagnano engineered another TD drive to make it 52-37. He completed passes of 24 and 28 yards to Miller and ran for 11 yards before hitting Edwards for a 7-yard TD connection.
But Calvert and the Flames needed just 1:42 to answer with an important six-play, 54-yard drive that culminated in Calvert’s 15-yard TD pass to Kevin Shaa.
The Black Bears ended the scoring with a nine-play, 90-yard drive that saw Fagnano hit Blair for a 7-yard TD with 46 seconds left.
Solomon Ajayi’s eight tackles and Ceneca Espinoza’s seven led the Liberty defense while Taji Lowe’s game-high 11 tackles paced UMaine. Josh Huffman made eight.
UMaine hosts 2-5 William & Mary in Saturday’s 1 p.m. homecoming game in Orono.