ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine football team was full of uncertainty after an 0-3 start this season against admittedly tough competition — two Football Bowl Subdivision teams and Colonial Athletic Conference power James Madison.

Just three weeks later, that uncertainty has evolved into considerable self-confidence in the aftermath of Saturday’s 20-16 homecoming victory over the 17th-ranked University at Albany in front of an Alfond Stadium-record crowd of 10,443.

Coach Joe Harasymiak’s club is now 3-3 overall, 2-1 in CAA play heading into next Saturday’s road test at the University of Rhode Island.

“It was hard after 0-3 and you start looking around at each other and thinking about how this season was going to go,” said UMaine senior quarterback Dan Collins, who shook off an interception on the Black Bears’ third play from scrimmage to pass for 280 yards and three touchdowns.

“Coach H talks about it all the time. We just believe in what we know we’re capable of, and now we’re 3-3 and control our own destiny. We’re a confident team now, full of energy.”

UMaine parlayed a balanced attack that generated 467 yards of total offense with a defense that limited UAlbany (4-2, 1-2 CAA) to a single touchdown.

“We had opportunities and didn’t capitalize,” said Great Danes coach Greg Gattuso. “Taking field goals instead of touchdowns was the difference in the game.”

UMaine was able to work over the top of UAlbany’s defense early in the contest, with Collins completing touchdown strikes of 49 yards to Micah Wright and 40 yards to Earnest Edwards in the first half and 51 yards to Jordan Dunn early in the third quarter.

The Black Bears combined Collins’ 11-for-20 passing day with a running-back-by-committee approach that produced 214 yards.

Sophomore Darian-Davis Ray was the rushing star, gaining 81 yards on 16 carries and getting most of the work down the stretch. Josh Mack (11-57) and Zaire Williams (11-43) helped UMaine average more than four yards per carry.

“I think the bottom line today was that we rushed the ball 44 times and that kept us in the game,” said Harasymiak. “We were running the ball well in the first half and (offensive coordinator Liam) Cohen did a good job of staying committed to that. We rushed for (4.2) yards per carry and that’s a big part of why we won that game.

“But obviously when you do that it opens some things up down the field and we’re very talented at wideout and Danny’s got an arm so we’ll continue to do that against every team we play.”

Still, UMaine’s third straight victory wasn’t secured until after sophomore linebacker Sterling Sheffield recorded the Black Bears’ lone sack of UAlbany quarterback Neven Sussman, a 10-yard loss with less than three minutes left that stalled the Great Danes’ final drive.

Trailing by four points, UAlbany used a 36-yard pass from Sussman to Dione Alston to reach the Maine 37, but on second-and-9 Sussman (10 of 26, 187 yards) could find no one to throw to and Sheffield tracked him down from behind.

A third-down completion got 12 yards back, but Sussman overthrew his intended target on fourth-and-7 and UMaine was able to run out the final 1:43.

“The defensive line was able to flush him out and the coverage was great and so it made it so he couldn’t throw the ball and that opened it up so I could make a play,” said Sheffield.

Senior linebacker Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga led UMaine’s defense with 13 tackles, while defensive backs Darrius Hart and Jason Matovu each had 10 stops — with Hart adding an interception.

UMaine’s lead was just 13-8 at intermission despite a 290-114 advantage in total yards.

UAlbany entered the game with an FCS-best 14 interceptions, and it took just three plays until Mason Gray intercepted a Collins pass near midfield.

UAlbany moved quickly downfield but settled for Ethan Stark’s 27-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead five minutes into play.

Collins quickly regrouped, as Wright got behind UAlbany’s Kareem Brown down the right sideline and the senior signal caller found him for a 49-yard touchdown pass.

Derek Deoul, seeing his first duty kicking extra points for UMaine, extended the lead to 7-3 with 6:49 left in the opening quarter.

Collins went deep again early in the second quarter to push UMaine’s lead to 13-3, finding Edwards (4 catches, 79 yards; 3 rushes, 30 yards) with a 40-yard touchdown strike on a deep crossing pattern to the left sideline.

UAlbany caught a break midway through the period when UMaine center Max Andrews lofted a snap well over Collins’ head and into the end zone, where the quarterback fell on the ball for a safety to draw UAlbany within 13-5.

The Great Danes returned the ensuing free kick to the UMaine 47, leading to a 39-yard field goal by Stark with 3:43 left before the break.

UAlbany threatened to pull even closer, marching from its 34 to the UMaine 12 after taking the second-half kickoff, but that drive ended as Sheffield blocked Stark’s 30-yard field-goal try.

UMaine then stretched its lead to 20-8 on Collins’ scoring pass to Dunn, who pulled the ball away from UAlbany defensive back Rayshan Clark from behind in the right side of the end zone with 9:59 left in the period.

A 1-yard run by Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks and a two-point conversion pass from Sussman to Jordan Crockett pulled UAlbany within 20-16 with 10:16 left in the game.

“I don’t think it was the cleanest of games from both sides but, hey, good football teams — and we’re becoming one, I believe — have got to find a way to win and we did that today,” said Harasymiak. “That’s the bottom line. That’s why we’re in this.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...