The University of Maine football team’s damaging 24-17 loss to Richmond on Saturday — which all but eliminated the Black Bears from a second straight Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth — was a microcosm of the season.
The defense was supposed to be a strength of the team, and it played like it in the first half, limiting the Spiders to 93 total yards on 25 plays, an average of just 3.7 yards per play.
The second half was a different story as the Black Bears were victimized by costly big plays.
The Spiders gained 202 yards on 29 second-half plays, an average of 6.96 yards per play.
A 52-yard pass from Joe Mancuso to Keyston Fuller on a second-and-11 play and a 15-yard pass from Mancuso to Fuller on second-and-13 set up Mancuso’s 1-yard TD plunge to give Richmond its first lead of the game.
After UMaine regained the lead when back-up quarterback Joe Fagnano, playing for the injured Chris Feguson (sprained right foot), threw an 87-yard TD pass to Andre Miller, it took the Spiders just one play to recapture the lead for good when Mancuso tossed a 66-yard scoring pass to a wide-open Fuller.
It was the fifth touchdown play of at least 28 yards allowed by UMaine this season and fourth in excess of 43 yards.
In the fourth quarter, Jake Larson’s 26-yard field goal capped a drive during which Mancuso ran 12 yards on a third-and-1 and threw a 22-yard pass to Charlie Fessler on a third-and-5.
“Those big plays probably cost us the game,” UMaine head coach Nick Charlton said. “Those momentum swings were debilitating. That can’t happen. That needs to be corrected. We have to look at the best ways to put our guys in position to make plays.”
The Black Bear defense, which has been without All-Colonial Athletic Association linebacker Deshawn Stevens (Achilles tendon tear) since early in the first game of the season, also failed to force a turnover for the fifth time in six games.
The kicking game also has been shaky, with junior Kenny Doak missing two of three field goals on Saturday and just 6 for 11 on the season.
“Not finishing drives and missing those two field goals were very large factors in the game,” Charlton said.
UMaine penetrated the Richmond 20-yard line four times but produced only 10 points.
With an overall record of 2-4 and an 0-3 CAA mark, it would take a miraculous finish by the Black Bears to earn a playoff berth.
“Our playoff chances aren’t dashed,” Charlton said. “We lost a couple of [CAA] games to good teams [Towson, Villanova] and lost to another good one on Saturday.
“We know where we’re at. We still have everything in front of us. We’re still able to accomplish our goals. It’s a difficult situation. We’ve had a lot of adversity. We’ve had some key injuries but every team has to deal with them. We have to overcome them.”
UMaine was without All-CAA wide receiver and kickoff returner Earnest Edwards (broken nose), and Ferguson suffered his injury in the second quarter.
Charlton said he expects to have Edwards back for Saturday’s 6 p.m. game against Football Bowl Subdivision team Liberty University (4-2) in Lynchburg, Virginia, but called Ferguson’s status day-to-day.
Fagnano, a true freshman, completed 10 of 16 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked four times and intercepted at the goal line on UMaine’s final drive.
Charlton was happy with Fagnano, and the team’s rush defense as Richmond ran for just 69 yards on 30 carries. He also praised his team’s running attack which churned out a season-high 208 yards on 45 carries.
“I have a lot of respect for Richmond’s front [defensive line]. They’re very talented. But I thought we controlled the line of scrimmage and I was very pleased with the fact that we were able to run the ball on them,” Charlton said.
UMaine senior Joe Fitzpatrick of North Yarmouth rushed for a game-high 93 yards on 19 carries and now has 248 rushing yards on 46 carries over his past three games.
“He runs the ball hard,” said Richmond linebacker Tyler Dressler, who was the league’s co-Defensive Player of the Week after his 20-tackle performance against UMaine.
On Saturday at Liberty’s Homecoming, the Black Bears will face Josh Mack, an All-American running back at UMaine in 2017 when he rushed for 1,335 yards on 243 carries. After transferring to Liberty and sitting out last year per NCAA regulations, he is the Flames’ leading rusher this season with 360 yards on 57 carries.
“He is an elite player. He had a lot of success for us in 2017, but he made a decision [to transfer] that he thought was best for him,” Charlton said.