Villanova University’s recent dominance of the University of Maine continued on Saturday afternoon on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium in Orono.
It took the 16th-ranked Wildcats less than two minutes to take a lead they would never relinquish as they trounced the Black Bears 44-17 in a Colonial Athletic Association football game.
It was Villanova’s sixth win in the last seven meetings with the Black Bears.
“They outplayed us and outcoached us,” UMaine coach Nick Charlton said. “The game should have been more competitive than it was. We never got into a rhythm offensively and they play very sound defense.
Senior running back Justin Covington ran for a career-high four touchdowns as the Wildcats improved to 2-1. It was Villanova’s first game since March 13 as it had a bye followed by a cancellation of last weekend’s game against New Hampshire due to a COVID-19 outbreak at UNH.
UMaine fell to 2-2.
Covington had three TD runs of one yard and a 44-yarder. Senior quarterback Daniel Smith completed 16 of 28 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown. Rayjoun Pringle caught five passes for 47 yards including a 13-yard TD reception.
The Wildcats built a 24-3 halftime lead behind a pair of Covington touchdown runs and Smith’s TD pass to Pringle.
Two Covington one-yard TD plunges in the first 5:17 of the third period sewed it up.
“They have a good stable of backs. They’re all big, physical guys who fight for extra yardage,” UMaine senior linebacker and captain Deshawn Stevens said.
On the opening drive of the second half, UMaine tried a fake punt on a fourth-and-nine at the Villanova 47, but Isas Waxter snuffed it out and tackled tight end Shawn Bowman for no gain.
Bowman took the direct snap from center and tried to run left.
The Wildcats took full advantage, covering 53 yards in eight plays with Covington bursting in for the TD.
On the next possession, Villanova freshman Kshawn Schulters intercepted an errant Joe Fagnano pass and returned it 48 yards to the 1-yard line to set up Covington’s fourth TD.
Curtis Murray scored for UMaine on a four-yard run early in the fourth quarter but Jalen Jackson answered with a five-yard TD run. Freddie Brock added a consolation 19-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter for the Black Bears.
UMaine won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. The Wildcats promptly strung together a game-opening five-play, 66-yard drive capped by Covington’s 44-yard touchdown run.
Covington was hit at the of scrimmage but broke the tackle, sliced outside and sprinted down the sidelines.
Cole Bunce’s 31-yard field goal expanded the lead later in the first period after a nine-play, 53-yard march. UMaine put together a 13-play, 56-yard drive that produced a 26-yard Jonny Messina field goal. It represented UMaine’s first first-quarter points this season.
The Black Bears have been outscored 26-3 in the first quarter.
The Huskies then put together an important 93-yard drive to expand the lead to 17-3.
Smith completed six of eight passes for 67 yards on the drive and rattled off a 10-yard run on a fourth-and-two situation at the UMaine-37 to extend the drive. He found Pringle in the corner of the end zone for the TD.
“That was a big point in the game,” Charlton said.
UMaine mounted a promising drive but Brock fumbled and Denzel Williams recovered at the Villanova 34.
UMaine stopped the Wildcats and got the ball back but failed to convert on a third-and-two as Brock was stopped for a one-yard gain.
Charlton called for a fake punt but the Wildcats came out in a different formation so he called it off and David Gelb punted with three minutes left in a half.
The Wildcats then pieced together a 79-yard drive to close out the half with Covington, who had nine carries for 82 yads in the game, polishing it off from the one with 45 seconds left.
Villanova rushed for 232 yards and averaged 6.4 yards per carry. Jackson complemented Covington with 76 yards on 10 carries.
Two-time CAA Offensive Player of the Week Fagnano completed 21 of 35 passes for 235 yards but didn’t look sharp, misfiring on several throws.
Six of those completions came off little shovel passes to University of Connecticut transfer Xavier Scott for 106 of those yards. Mike Monios had four catches for 45 yards and Brock caught four passes for 13 yards.
“It wasn’t one of Joe’s best games,” said Charlton, adding that Fagnano has been playing with an injured hand.
Leading receiver Andre Miller had only two catches for 39 yards. He came into the game with 19 catches for 309 yards.
Brock, a true freshman, carried the ball 14 times for 88 yards.
Linebacker Forrest Rhyne, a first team All-CAA selection in 2019, had eight tackles in his injury-delayed 2021 debut to lead the Wildcats. Safety Ethan Potter had seven.
Defensive end Khairi Manns paced UMaine with eight tackles and Steves had seven.
UMaine travels to Rhode Island next Saturday.