UMaine’s Kolubah Pewee Jr. takes down Delaware's Thyrick Pitts in the first half of the Black Bears' opening game on Sept. 2, 2021. Delaware beat UMaine 34-24. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

There were plenty of encouraging signs in his team’s 34-24 loss to No. 5 Delaware last Thursday night at Alfond Stadium, University of Maine football coach Nick Charlton said as the team looks ahead to Saturday’s road game against No. 2 James Madison in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Delaware beat UMaine 37-0 this past spring.

“The fact we were in position to win the game was certainly encouraging. We know the talent is there and the execution can be there. Our team showed it is capable of winning these types of games,” Charlton said during Monday’s weekly Colonial Athletic Association coaches’ press conference.

“But like I said to the team, there are no moral victories. We had an opportunity to win the game. But we didn’t finish.”

UMaine erased a 17-point deficit with 24 unanswered points in the second quarter but never scored again.

With Delaware leading 27-24 late in the third period, UMaine wide receiver Devin Young caught a 24-yard pass from Joe Fagnano but fumbled through the end zone as he stretched out to the goal line, causing a touchback which gave the ball back to Delaware. Nine penalties also proved costly.

But the defense, led by linebackers Ray Miller, a Campbell University (North Carolina) transfer, and Adrian Otero limited Delaware running back Dejoun Lee, the spring season’s CAA Offensive Player of the Year, to an average of just 3.7 yards per carry (16 carries, 59 yards).

Delaware averaged only 3.2 yards per carry as a team.

Miller finished with 12 tackles while Otero was involved in five tackles.

“They were excellent. You could really feel their energy and presence on the field,” Charlton said. “We were really looking forward to watching Ray play. He hadn’t played in a while and he showed what he was capable of. He’s a very savvy football player and very physical. Adrian is very fast and physical.”

Charlton rotated in nine defensive linemen and said he was pleased with how they limited Delaware’s running game and how the team exhibited its resiliency in rallying from a 17-0 deficit.

Delaware coach Danny Rocco was impressed with UMaine and predicted that they will win “a bunch” of games.

“Their quarterback [Fagnano] is really good, they are well-coached and it is a prideful team,” Rocco said.

The defense could get some help this Saturday as Charlton said he is optimistic that defensive back Robby Riobe and linebacker Darius McKenzie will be available after missing the Delaware game due to injury.

Riobe, a sophomore safety, tied for third in tackles this spring with 25 in four games, and he also recovered a fumble. McKenzie is a redshirt freshman from Ottawa, Ontario, who was an All-Canadian selection.

The Black Bears will be decided underdogs at James Madison, but Dukes head coach Curt Cignetti said his team won’t take UMaine lightly.

“They’re a very athletic team. I was really impressed with them against Delaware. They played a great football game. They got down early, showed their resiliency coming back and had a chance to take the lead. They blocked a punt for a touchdown and could have blocked another one,” Cignetti said.

“They’re a typical Maine football team. They get after you, they’re tough and very athletic.”

JMU opened with a 68-10 shellacking of Morehead State (Kentucky) on Saturday.

But the Dukes lost All-American offensive tackle Liam Fornadel to a serious knee injury.

James Madison is 58-9 over the last five seasons including the spring when it went 7-1 including a loss to eventual national champ Sam Houston State (Texas) 38-35 in the FCS semifinals.

JMU won the national title in 2016 and lost to North Dakota State in the national championship games in 2019 (28-20) and 2017 (17-13).