The University of Maine’s football team had struggled mightily in the turnover department going into Saturday’s Colonial Athletic Association game against Albany, having lost the ball nine more times than it had gained it via turnovers.
But the Black Bears forced three Albany turnovers and all resulted in touchdowns, including two in the third quarter, as UMaine scored 23 unanswered points en route to a 47-31 triumph over the Great Danes at Casey Stadium.
UMaine (4-5 overall, 2-3 CAA) rattled off the 23 points in a span of 6 minutes, 30 seconds, to build a 47-24 lead and keep its slim Football Championship Subdivision playoff hopes alive.
It was UMaine’s fifth consecutive win over Albany (5-4, 3-2 CAA) and its fifth in a row in Albany. It was also Albany’s first home loss this season after four victories.
“Our defense forced turnovers and that was the story of the game,” UMaine head coach Nick Charlton said. “Everything else came from that. That was the biggest bright spot for me.”
UMaine snapped a 24-24 tie and took the lead for good on a safety when senior nose tackle Charles Mitchell wrapped up Albany quarterback Jeff Undercuffler in the end zone. He was called for intentional grounding and UMaine had the two-point lead.
The Black Bears took the ensuing free kick and marched 67 yards in six plays with true freshman quarterback Joe Fagnano throwing a 43-yard touchdown pass to Earnest Edwards.
On Albany’s next series, versatile Louisville transfer Ori Jean-Charles, a tight end who was moved to linebacker, picked off an Undercuffler pass and returned in 47 yards for a score.
UMaine’s defense forced another turnover just three plays later when Jamehl Wiley recovered an Undercuffler fumble forced by Kayon Whitaker at the Albany 21.
Four plays later, Fagnano (12-for-18, 257 yards, 4 TDs) threw a 2-yard TD pass to Jean-Charles, playing tight end, to make it 47-24.
Fagnano has now thrown 10 TD passes in his three starts filling in for the injured Chris Ferguson. He was not intercepted.
“He’s very poised. He made some mistakes, there are some things he would like to have back,” Charlton said. “But at the end of the day, he’s a baller. He makes plays. I’m proud of him.”
Undercuffler threw a 5-yard TD pass to Thomas Greaney with 6:15 to go in the game but it was too little, too late.
UMaine preseason first team All-American cornerback Manny Patterson suffered a lower body injury in the first half and could be lost for the season.
UMaine built a 10-0 lead in the first quarter on Kenny Doak’s 19-yard field goal and a school-record, 90-yard TD pass from Fagnano to Old Town’s Andre Miller.
Albany rallied to take a 14-10 lead on Undercuffler TD passes of 64 yards to Juwan Green and 10 yard to Greaney.
The Black Bears responded in the seesaw half to build a 24-14 lead on Fagnano’s 2-yard pass to Shawn Bowman and a 1-yard run by Emmanuel Reed after a sack and fumble recovery by Whitaker at the A 8.
Albany strung together a late first-half drive (10 plays, 69 yards) to cut the lead to 24-21 at the intermission with Undercuffler finding Tyler Oedekoven for a 16-yard score with 26 seconds left.
Dylan Burns tied the game with a 27-yard field goal 3:11 into the second half but UMaine registered the safety 1:50 later.
“The defense created turnovers that put us in some real good spots and we made enough plays to win the game. It all started with the safety,” Charlton said.
UMaine has scored 125 points in those three games.
Senior wide receiver Edwards caught six passes for a game-high 134 yards and moved into third place on the school’s all-time receiving yards list with 2,370.
“We’ve got to make sure we get the ball to him,” Charlton said. “That is one of my singular focuses. He is an elite player and he has to keep doing it for us in order for us to win.”
Joe Fitzpatrick was UMaine’s leading rusher with 77 yards on 13 carries and Reed contributed 50 on 11. Fagnano chipped in with 24 on 10 carries.
UMaine racked up 426 total yards, its third straight game over the 400-yard mark.
UMaine’s defense held the CAA’s second leading rusher, Karl Mofor (155 carries, 756 yards entering the game) to just 33 yards on 13 carries.
Cornerback Katley Joseph finished with a career-high nine tackles for UMaine and linebackers Taji Lowe and Adrian Otero had eight each. Defensive end Whitaker was in on six tackles including a game-high 2.5 sacks. He also forced a fumble and recovered one.
Undercuffler completed 25 of 49 passes for 387 yards and four TDs. Jerah Reeves had seven receptions for 109 yards and Green caught four more for 111 yards.
Josh Wynn’s game-high 10 tackles and A.J. Mistler’s seven paced the Albany defense.