BOSTON, Mass. — Trailing by eight early in the third quarter, the University of Maine football team (4-5) was able to cash in on a Josh Mack score and a two-point conversion to knot the score at 24-24. However, UMass (3-7) would outscore the Black Bears 20-7 the rest of the way, edging out UMaine by a 44-31 final as part of the Fenway Gridiron Series on Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park.
Josh Mack, who entered play as the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) rushing leader in yards per game, carried the ball 22 times for 110-yards and a pair of scores. The rush total marked the seventh time in nine game that Mack has eclipsed the 100-yard plateau. Mack joined Jaquan Blair with four catches to lead the reception totals.
Earnest Edwards recorded his second career kick return touchdown, taking his first attempt of the game back 95-yards for a score. Edwards also added 46-yards receiving.
The Black Bear defense, which entered the game ninth in the nation in third down defense (29.6), held UMass to just 3-of-14 on third down. However, UMaine’s offense went just 1-for-14 in third down attempts.
For the second week in a row, Deshawn Stevens led the Black Bears in tackles, notching 12 stops with a sack at Fenway. Kayton Whitaker continued his hot streak, tallying his team-leading 8.5 sack of the year and adding eight total stops.
It was a thrilling opening four minutes of action at Fenway Park. UMass began by taking the opening drive 79-yards in 1:31, ending with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Ford to Jessie Britt.
Maine answered as Earnest Edwards took the ensuing kickoff 95-yards to the house for a score. It was the second career kick return touchdown for Edwards, the first being a 97-yard score in 2016 against Villanova.
UMass snatched the lead back just 1:44 later when Ford when Ford found Andy Isabella for a 69-yard score.
A double-penalty play against the Black Bears on UMass’ fourth drive of the quarter advanced the Minutemen down to the Maine 12. Ford and Isabella hooked up for their second-straight score as UMass extended its lead to 21-7 late in the opening stanza.
Sacks by Mitchell (4.5) and Whitaker (8.5) helped to stall UMass’ fifth drive but the Minutemen would come away with three points on a 41-yard field goal by Logan Laurent with 10:20 left in the half.
Chris Ferguson and the offense answered on Maine’s next drive. Pass completions from Ferguson to Mack (22-yards) and Jaquan Blair (29-yards) carried the Black Bears deep into UMass territory. A high snap was settled by Ferguson before he ran it in from 9-yards out, his first rushing touchdown of his career. The score cut the UMass lead to 24-14 midway through the second quarter.
A 45-yard punt from Maine’s Derek Deoul trapped UMass back on its own 5. On second down, Connor Walsh was able to break into the Minutemen backfield, tripping up Ford in the end zone for a safety. The safety, Maine’s first recorded since 2012, made it a one-score game, 24-16 Minutemen.
The Black Bears put together an efficient, 12-play, 80-yard drive to start the second half and ultimately, knot the score with a bit of trickery. Facing third and 11, Ferguson moved the chains by hitting Edwards for a 31-yard gain to the UMass 27. Nine plays later, Mack broke the plan for a 1-yard score, pulling the Black Bears within two. UMaine lined up for a two-point conversion try. The direct snap went to Mack, who handed it off to Ferguson before the quarterback hit Drew Belcher in the corner of the end zone, tying the game at 24-24 with five minutes gone in the third quarter.
The Minutemen followed with 13 unanswered points. Ford broke the tie with his fourth touchdown pass of the game, and the third touchdown reception by Isabella, with 2:42 to play in the third quarter.
A 70-yard interception return by Lee Moses extended the Minutemen lead to 13. Dakota Tarbox was able to get a hand on the point after attempt as UMaine trailed 37-24 late in the third.
There was no quit in the Black Bears. A 48-yard reception by Belcher brought the Black Bears down to the UMass 32. Two plays later, Mack rushed 37-yards for his second score of the game. Brandon Briggs’ extra point closed the gap to six with 6:45 remaining in regulation.
UMass looked to seal the game when Marquis Young found the end zone on a 37-yard rush with 1:57 to play.
The score would hold as the Black Bears dropped the Fenway Gridiron Series meeting with UMass, 44-31.
UMaine will close out the regular season on Saturday, Nov. 18 when it hosts Stony Brook at Alfond Stadium for Senior Day.