University of Maine running back Freddie Brock carries the ball past Colgate's Ethan Malachi West in the second half of the Black Bears home opener at Alfond Stadium Saturday, September 10, 2022. Colgate won the game 21-18. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

After four straight losses, the University of Maine’s Jordan Stevens was pleased to get his first win as a head football coach.

“There was obviously a lot going into it, leading up to everything,” said Stevens, citing the fact that the team has spent a lot of time on the road, including games at New Mexico and Boston College.

“We felt like we were making progress but just weren’t getting the results we wanted. So we’re really happy for everybody in the program to get the win,” he added. “It was a special win for us. Now it’s on to the next one.”

He and his Black Bears are preparing for Saturday’s Homecoming game against first-year Colonial Athletic Association member Monmouth University, winner of four in a row. Game time is 1 p.m.

UMaine is 1-4 overall and 1-1 in the conference, while Monmouth is 4-2 and 2-1.

UMaine rallied for a 31-24 victory over first-year Colonial Athletic Association member Hampton University in Virginia on Saturday. The win was particularly memorable because the Black Bears trailed 24-17 in the fourth quarter.

Stevens, a former Mt. Blue High School of Farmington star and All-CAA defensive end at UMaine, said the team had a great week of practice leading up to the game and had good focus throughout the trip.

“In the game, it was exciting to see the team respond to certain situations,” he said. “[We forced] turnovers, the defense stepped up. The offense stepped up as well in certain moments where we needed points and they came through.”

One of the keys to the victory was the running game.

UMaine rushed for 236 yards on 39 carries for an average of 6.1 yards per carry, after rushing for just 335 yards on 109 carries through its first four games.

“It was good to see our running game really take off,” Stevens said. “We have emphasized the run game. Getting Elijah Barnwell going. Freddie Brock is getting better every week and getting more healthy every week. Getting him more involved is key.”

He said another factor in the improved running game is that the offensive line has been healthy.

“That has been huge. Just getting those same five guys playing together more consistently,” Stevens said. “(Tight end) Shawn Bowman is a huge part of that. He has allowed us to have those openings.”

He added that whenever the team can run the ball, the whole team feeds off it.

Barnwell ran 90 yards on 11 carries, quarterback Joe Fagnano carried the ball nine times for 59 yards, and Brock had 46 yards on 10 carries and scored the fourth-quarter TDs on a 7-yard run and 25-yard reception.

Wide receiver Zavier Scott carried the ball five times for 45 yards before suffering a knee injury and sitting out the second half. Stevens expects Scott to return to practice on Tuesday and said Scott didn’t play the second half for “preventive reasons.”

Stevens said 211-pound Barnwell provides the Black Bears with a big back who runs vertical and does a “great job getting those hard-fought yards,” while Brock is shiftier and has the ability to make cuts that get him to the outside.

“They complement each other well,” the coach said.

The running game will be important on Saturday because Monmouth is tied for 79th among 123 Football Championship Subdivision teams in rushing defense, allowing only 171.7 yards per game.

Fagnano completed 19 of 24 passes for 213 yards to complement the running game.

Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan said Fagnano poses problems for his Hawks.

“He is a big, strong kid. He’s very physical. He can hurt you not only by throwing the ball, which he does very well, but has also been very effective running the ball,” Callahan said. “We have had trouble keeping quarterbacks in the pocket so we’re going to have to do a much better job of that.”

UMaine’s defense will have its hands full because the Hawks have a sophomore running back in Jaden Shirden who leads the FCS in rushing yards (932) and in yards per carry (9.6).

Stevens called Shirden an outstanding back who has excellent balance and the ability to get separation from tacklers with his terrific bursts of speed.

Callahan said Shirden is a patient runner with very good vision whose strength is his acceleration.

Stevens was happy with his team’s three interceptions and hopes the defense can continue to force turnovers, something that had been missing from its game with just two turnovers through the first four games.