ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine’s football team had forced just two turnovers in its first four games, all losses.
But the Black Bears forced three in last Saturday’s 31-24 win over Hampton and three more on Saturday, leading to 21 points and keying UMaine’s 38-28 Homecoming victory over Monmouth University (N.J.) at Alfond Stadium.
UMaine is 2-4 overall and 2-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association while first-year CAA member Monmouth fell to 4-3 and 2-2 after having its four-game winning streak snapped. UMaine has won six homecoming games in a row.
“Those turnovers were huge,” said UMaine head coach Jordan Stevens.
The Black Bears held Monmouth to 112 rushing yards, which is 134 below the Hawks’ average. They also sacked Monmouth quarterback Tony Turkett five times.
“They have played well up front all season long but the record didn’t show it. They have one of the better defensive lines we’ve seen,” said Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan.
UMaine quarterback Joe Fagnano completed 14 of 23 passes for 181 yards including a nine-yard touchdown pass to Shawn Bowman and a 14-yarder to Montigo Moss.
Freddie Brock ran 33 yards for a TD and Elijah Barnwell had a one-yard score.
Kobay White caught six passes for 115 yards, Moss and Bowman each had three catches for 43 and 11 yards, respectively, and Brock ran for 68 yards on 10 carries.
Cole Baker kicked an important 35-yard field goal to make it 38-20 with six minutes left.
Defensive end Khairi Manns’ 11 tackles and forced fumble paced UMaine’s defense and fellow defensive end Jamehl Wiley had seven tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Turkett completed 22 of 31 passes for 292 yards including TD passes of 17 yards to Dre Tucker, 31 to Dymere Miller and 43 to Assanti Kearney. Owen Wright scored on a three-yard run with 4:37 left to make it 38-28 but UMaine’s offense salted away the game.
The game got off to an auspicious start for UMaine as the one of the Football Championship Subdivision’s most prolific offenses took the opening kickoff and marched 85 yards on just seven plays to take a 7-0 lead on Tucker’s catch.
But the Hawks wouldn’t score again until their last drive of the half.
The UMaine defense tightened up after that and forced two turnovers that led to 14 points as UMaine built a 21-7 lead.
Shakur Smalls set up UMaine’s first TD when he recovered a Turkett fumble which was forced by Manns at the Monmouth 22-yard line.
Fagnano floated a nine-yard touchdown pass to Bowman in the left corner of the end zone to tie the game with 4:07 left in the first period.
UMaine took a 14-7 lead when the Black Bears marched 73 yards on seven plays and Brock finished off the drive with his nifty 33-yard run.
That came with 3:09 left in the half and sophomore cornerback Kahzir ‘Buggs’ Brown expanded the lead 1:35 later with his interception return.
Miller’s TD reception closed the gap to 21-14 with 55 seconds left in the half.
Leading 21-14, the Black Bears wasted little time expanding the lead after receiving the second-half kickoff.
A 77-yard pass from Fagnano to White set up Barnwell’s one-yard TD run.
On the ensuing kickoff, Monmouth’s Makhi Green fumbled the ball and Vince Thomas recovered for UMaine at the Monmouth 14.
Three plays later, Moss hauled in the 14-yard pass from Fagnano in the corner of the end zone to make it 35-14.
Pivotal play of the game: Leading 35-20 late in the third period, tackle Josh Lezin and linebacker Adrian Otero stuffed Wright short of a first down on a fourth-and-one play at the UMaine five-yard play.
Takeaway: The Black Bears are continuing to improve and were able to make clutch plays on both sides of the ball to earn the hard-fought win.
Up next: UMaine visits Stony Brook on Saturday at 3:30 while Monmouth hosts Rhode Island at 1.