ORONO, Maine —- In a close game, the team more used to winning is the one that finds ways to make pivotal plays down the stretch.

That was the case at Alfond Stadium on Saturday afternoon as 11th-ranked James Madison University converted two interceptions into long touchdown runs by the talented running back tandem of Khalid Abdullah (85 yards) and Cardon Johnson (52 yards) and that supplied them with a 31-20 victory over the University of Maine in a mutual Colonial Athletic Association opener.

The 3-1 Dukes, a Football Championship Subdivision playoff team the previous two years, intercepted three passes thrown by senior quarterback Dan Collins in the second half, the first three turnovers of the season for the 0-3 Black Bears.

UMaine, playing in front of its largest home crowd (8,786) since 2004, has now lost seven straight dating back to last season.

The Black Bears, a combined 8-14 in the previous two seasons, had won their last three home openers and CAA debuts and had a legitimate shot to extend those streaks until the Dukes stiffened on defense in the second half and converted the interceptions into touchdowns.

“It was probably the difference in the ballgame,” James Madison coach Mike Houston said. “Being able to force the turnovers was obviously a big momentum boost for us but then we were able to capitalize on them which is what you hope to do anytime you steal a possession.”

“You aren’t going to beat a team like that when you turn the ball over three times,” UMaine coach Joe Harasymiak said. “You aren’t going to beat anybody.”

“Obviously, we’re a team that is struggling to make plays in the second half,” added Harasymiak, whose Black Bears have scored seven second-half points in their last two games.

With Maine leading 13-10 and at the James Madison 38 on the opening series of the second half courtesy of a 61-yard kickoff return by DeAndre Scott, Collins lofted an ill-advised pass down to the 8-yard line where Jordan Brown picked it off.

Three plays later, Abdullah found a seam up the middle and raced 85 yards to give James Madison the lead.

UMaine answered with an eight-play, 75-yard drive capped by Darian Davis-Ray’s leaping, 3-yard TD run. That gave UMaine its last lead with 9:59 left in the third period.

The Black Bears would generate only 45 yards of offense the rest of the way.

After racking up 221 total yards in the first half, UMaine was held to 120 in the second half. Collins, who was 8-for-11 for 221 yards and no interceptions in the first 30 minutes, was 5-for-11 for 61 yards and the three interceptions after the intermission.

“I didn’t execute at all in the second half. I didn’t make any plays,” a somber Collins said.

“Dan has to play better, no doubt about it,” Harasymiak said. “He knows that. He has to stay in the moment a little bit more.”

After the teams swapped interceptions, James Madison took the lead for good with a nine-play, 67-yard drive which was extended by a UMaine pass interference penalty on a third-and-four.

Quarterback Bryan Schor finished off the drive with a 19-yard slant-in pass to John Miller on a third-and-11.

Houston said UMaine had done a good job of putting an extra pass rusher in the box “but if you do that, you put yourself in some risky situations.

“John did a good job beating his man in the man-to-man coverage and Bryan did a good job hitting him in that tight window. It was good execution,” Houston said.

UMaine sophomore rover back Sterling Sheffield said there was a “miscommunication” on the play as he and his mates were in two different defensive schemes.

Senior free safety Raven Greene set up the insurance touchdown when he sprinted over to the sideline to make a nifty interception on a pass intended for Jared Osumah at the James Madison-48.

“Jared had his man beat but I didn’t put it out there far enough,” Collins said.

On the next play, Johnson sprinted 52 yards up the middle to make it 31-20.

“The line did a great job. They created a crease and we made a big play,” Johnson said.

It is the fifth touchdown of 52 yards or more allowed by UMaine this season.

Abdullah ran for a career-high 172 yards on 22 carries and Johnson added 110 yards on 13 carries.

Schor completed 12 of 22 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown. Miller caught five passes for 55 yards.

Linebacker Brandon Hereford led the James Madison defense with nine tackles and a sack and lineman Simeyon Robinson had seven tackles of which four and half were for loss.

Davis-Ray was UMaine’s leading rusher with 47 yards on 10 carries and Micah Wright, Marquise Adams and Osumah each had three catches for 84, 44 and 43 yards, respectively.

Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga had a game-high 14 tackles, including two sacks, while Sheffield had nine and a sack.

James Madison entered the game averaging 54.7 points per game and marched 54 yards for a score with the opening kickoff as Abdullah completed it with a 3-yard run.

It was the fourth straight game the Dukes had scored on their opening drive.

UMaine pulled within 7-6 on a 23-yard end-around by Earnest Edwards as Collins handed the ball off to Davis-Ray heading around the left end and Davis-Ray pitched it to Edwards going the other way.

A 14-yard pass from Collins to Osumah and a 36-yard screen pass to Davis-Ray preceded the end-around.

James Madison responded with an 11-play, 52-yard drive that resulted in a 31-yard field goal by Tyler Gray.

The Black Bears took their first lead as they went 75 yards on six plays capped by Nigel Beckford’s determined 2-yard run with 1:41 left in the half.

Collins threw a 40-yard pass to Wright and a 22-yard screen pass to Beckford on the drive.

UMaine hosts 2-2 Bryant University at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1.