Saturday’s University of Maine football home opener against 13th-ranked Albany didn’t get off to a good start for Black Bears wide receiver Andre Miller. He dropped a pass and also misplayed a wind-blown throw in the first period.
The co-captain from Old Town didn’t drop any more, making eight catches for a career-high 144 yards, including the game-winning 10-yard touchdown grab with 3:58 remaining for his third TD reception of the game, as UMaine rallied for a wild 38-34 victory in a seesaw affair on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium in Orono.
“I hate to let my team down,” Miller said. “They’re looking at me to make plays. So I have to go out and make plays.”
Miller’s game-winning catch capped an eight-play, 76-yard drive during a second half that featured six lead changes.
UMaine head coach Nick Charlton took it upon himself in the first quarter to give Miller a pep talk.
“I just told him we were going to keep going back to him,” Charlton said.
Sophomore quarterback Joe Fagnano completed 17 of 29 passes for 249 yards and four touchdowns to help the Black Bears (1-1), earn their sixth straight win over Albany (1-1).
Fagnano also rushed 13 times for a team-high 51 yards and a TD, including the game-clinching first down dash with just over a minute remaining.
Less than four minutes earlier, a 40-yard pass from Fagnano to Jacob Hennie, featuring a nice piece of running after the catch by Hennie, set up the game-winning slant pass from Fagnano to Miller.
“We weren’t going to pressure ourselves. We were going to do what we knew how to do,” Fagnano said. “It was one play at a time. We didn’t look at the clock.”
A holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff backed Albany up to its 9-yard line and three plays produced just three yards and forced them to punt.
Four Elijah Barnwell carries for 18 yards earned a first down and then, on third-and-three at the Albany 31, Fagnano ran for four yards to sew up the win.
Charlton said that sequence was the most encouraging aspect of the win.
“We stopped them at the end of the game and then we executed our four-minute offense,” Charlton said.
“We made plays and that breeds confidence,” added Charlton, whose team racked up 412 yards of total offense, 300 more than a week ago in its 37-0 loss at Delaware.
UMaine spotted Albany a 10-0 lead, but scored 17 unanswered points to take the lead before Dylan Burns’ 22-yard field goal with 17 seconds left in the half sliced the lead to four.
Jeff Undercuffler threw a 19-yard TD pass to Mike Gray after a blocked field-goal attempt early in the third period to give Albany the lead.
Fagnano answered with a five-yard TD pass to Miller but Albany came right back with a 21-yard pass from Undercuffler to Chris Potts.
Fagnano then tossed a 37-yard TD pass to Miller but Karl Mofor’s two-yard run with 7:37 left gave Albany it’s last lead.
Undercuffler, who led the Football Championship Subdivision in 2019 with 41 TD passes, completed only 14 of 36 passes for 147 yards and two TDs.
The hard-running Mofor rushed for a game-high 155 yards on 30 carries.
“Give Maine credit. They answered the bell every time,” Albany coach Greg Gattuso said. “And I was frustrated and disappointed with our lack of discipline on defense.”
Burns’ 34-yard field goal opened the scoring with 9:47 left in the first period and Mofor expanded the lead with a two-yard run 1:39 into the second quarter.
Fagnano scored on a seven-yard run with 9:16 left in the half and then threw a nine-yard TD strike to Hennie (3 catches, 55 yards) with four minutes left. Jonny Messina kicked a 33-yard field goal with 2:13 remaining.
Linebacker Deshawn Stevens paced the UMaine defense with 12 tackles. Robby Riobe and Ori Jean-Charles made eight each, but Jean-Charles sustained a leg injury in the third quarter and didn’t return.
Linebacker Danny Damico posted a game-high 14 tackles for Albany and Hayden Specht logged 10.
Albany’s game-opening field goal was set up by a Devante Ford recovery at the UMaine 32 after Curtis Murray fumbled.
Albany made it 10-0 with a four-play, 43-yard drive that included 25 yards in Black Bear penalties. Mofor burst into the end zone from the 2.
UMaine answered on the ensuing drive as Fagnano completed all four of his passes for 44 yards, then scampered 7 yards for a score.
A three-and-out set up a seven-play, 49-yard march that featured Fagnano’s 33-yard sideline toss to Miller, who leaped over the defensive back to make the catch along the sideline.
Fagnano found Hennie in the back of the end zone for the TD.
UMaine then received a short field when Albany punter Sean Ralls touched his knee to the ground when fielding a low snap at the Albany 17 and Mussina kicked a 33-yard field goal.
Burns answered with his field goal.