In a strange game with a lot of twists and turns, the University of Maine snapped a three-game losing skid on Saturday afternoon.
The Black Bears scored 24 unanswered points and withstanding a furious fourth-quarter William & Mary rally to subdue the Tribe 34-25 in front of 8,123 fans at sun-drenched Alfond Stadium in Orono.
UMaine, which extended its homecoming winning streak to four, improved to 3-5 overall and 1-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association.
William & Mary (2-6 overall, 0-4 CAA), which suffered its fifth straight loss, was the only CAA team to beat UMaine last season.
UMaine led 31-12 with 10:25 left when William & Mary true freshman quarterback Hollis Mathis rambled 16 yards for a touchdown.
A rare successful onside kick gave William & Mary the ball back and the Tribe scored again 3:26 later on Mathis’ 7-yard run following his 34-yard completion to Zach Burdick on a fourth-and-nine play.
Rather than go for two, Tribe head coach Mike London had Jake Johnston kick the extra point to make it 31-25 with 6:59 left. So when Kenny Doak kicked a 24-yard field goal with one minute left, UMaine had an insurmountable nine-point lead instead of an attainable eight-point edge.
A 15-yard pass from Joe Fagnano to Jaquan Blair on a third-and-10 and a facemask penalty on a third-down run by Joe Fitzpatrick each extended the drive, took valuable time off the clock and set up Doak’s clinching field goal.
“I don’t cut back ever, really, but I did on that play because I didn’t want to go out of bounds [and stop the clock],” Fitzpatrick said. “I wanted to run as much time off the clock as I could. [The facemask penalty] was a lucky break based on playing the situation well.”
True freshman Fagnano, after starting the game with three incompletions, completed 13 of his next 14 passes including touchdown strikes of 67 yards to Earnest Edwards and 64 yards to Blair.
“You can always count on those guys,” said Fagnano of Blair and Edwards. “They are playmakers and it’s my job to get the ball to the playmakers.”
Wide receiver Edwards threw an 18-yard TD pass to Blair and running back Fitzpatrick added a 1-yard run.
Doak had kicked a 38-yard field goal in the third period.
Fagnano finished with 15 completions on 22 passes for 249 yards.
“He’s not your average true freshman quarterback. I’m proud of him,” said said UMaine head coach Nick Charlton, who praised the offensive line for its pass protection.
Blair caught four for 115 yards and Edwards snared four more for 92 yards. Fitzpatrick carried the ball 13 times for 57 yards and Fagnano had 13 rushes for 42 yards.
The turning point in the game occurred in the second period.
Fagnano’s pass to Edwards gave UMaine a 14-12 lead just 35 seconds after Bronson Yoder’s 3-yard TD run had given the visitors a 12-7 advantage.
On the ensuing series, UMaine defensive end Kayon Whitaker stripped Mathis of the ball and recovered it and UMaine converted it into seven points on Fitzpatrick’s one-yard run.
“Every week we emphasize creating turnovers and making big plays to help the offense,” Whitaker said.
UMaine went into the game with a dismal minus-11 turnover ratio but they won the turnover battle 2-0 and turned fumble recoveries by Whitaker and Adrian Otero into 10 points.
Mathis (19 carries, 52 yards) scored on runs of 6 and 16 and 7 yards but completed just four of 22 passes for 68 yards.
“They did a good job playing back deep and covering us but I’ve got to do a better job moving the ball downfield,” Mathis said.
Owen Wright gained 73 yards on 13 carries for W&M.
UMaine spotted the Tribe a 6-0 lead when Mathis finished off a game-opening drive with a 6-yard run. Alejandro Oregon blocked Johnston’s PAT.
UMaine took a 7-6 lead with a 10-play, 80-yard drive capped by Edwards’ 19-yard pass to Blair, who went up high over cornerback Latrelle Smith to haul it in. It was Edwards’ third TD pass of the season and fourth of his career.
“The catch was better than my throw,” Edwards said.
Whitaker said the UMaine defense played with high energy, even though the Tribe rushed for 226 yards on 50 carries. UMaine outgained William & Mary 439 to 294.
“The big thing is we communicated a lot better today,” Whitaker said. We were all on the same page. All the guys were doing their jobs so we were in position to make plays. We won the one-on-one battles.”
Whitaker posted seven solo tackles, four for a loss, and four assists to go with his forced fumble and fumble recovery. Otero logged a solo tackle and 11 assists along with his fumble recovery.
Will Kiely made eight tackles (4 TFL) and Trey Watkins had seven for the Tribe.
“In the end, we made plays and won the turnover battle,” Charlton said.
UMaine travels to Albany for next Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game.