In the 2007 football season, the University of Maine had one glaring weakness – the passing game.
Quarterback Adam Farkes threw for only seven touchdowns last season while splitting time at the position. The Black Bears threw for only 11 passing touchdowns as a team and did not record their first until the fourth game of the season.
After an opening weekend loss at Iowa, UMaine rallied last weekend at Monmouth behind Farkes, who threw for three touchdowns.
On Saturday night, the Black Bear passing game took another step forward in their home opener.
Farkes threw for four first-half touchdowns, including two to Tyrell Jones. The Black Bears never looked back as they beat the Stony Brook Seawolves 28-13 at Alfond Stadium in front of a crowd of 6,425.
“A lot of guys were making big plays, especially guys like Tyrell,” said Farkes, who tied his career-high for touchdown passes in a season. “We’ve been saying since camp that our passing game has a lot of potential.”
Following a three-and-out on the opening drive of the game and a Stony Brook (1-2) touchdown, the Black Bears responded, scoring 28 of the game’s next 31 points.
Landis Williams gave UMaine (2-1) great field position on the next drive when he returned the kickoff 38 yards to the Black Bear 44. After two incomplete passes, Farkes dumped the ball off to Jhamal Fluellen for 28 yards and the first down.
Four plays later, the Black Bears were faced with a fourth-and-12 at the Stony Brook 30-yard line. Farkes connected with Jones for the first of his two touchdowns in the right corner of the endzone to tie the game.
The next Stony Brook drive ended after three plays when Jonathan Pirruccello forced a fumble by quarterback Dayne Hoffman and Jovan Belcher recovered it at the Stony Brook 26. That was one of four forced turnovers on the day.
“They played very well as a defensive front and linebacking corps,” said Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore of a defense that had 10 tackles for loss, including seven sacks. “They controlled the line of scrimmage against us, and that caused some real problems.”
On the next play from scrimmage, UMaine took the lead for good when Farkes found tight end Derek Buttles for a 26-yard touchdown.
After Stony Brook’s Luke Gaddis kicked a 32-yard field goal, Farkes threw his third touchdown midway through the second quarter when Williams caught a pass from three yards out to make it 21-10.
With 1:21 left in the first half, Farkes found Jones for a touchdown once again.
The sophomore wide receiver who is seeing his first extensive action this season made a diving grab in the left side of the end zone to make it 28-10.
“It was a little stop-and-go route and [the cornerback] bit, so I knew I had him,” said Jones, who caught his first two career touchdown passes. “The ball was a little bit inside, so I knew I had to make a big play.”
Jones led Black Bear receivers with three receptions for 73 yards.
In the second half, the UMaine offense was held scoreless, but Stony Brook’s offense was held in check as well, scoring only three points.
Coming into the game, the Seawolves rushing attack had averaged 233.5 rushing yards per game. On Saturday, the Black Bears held Stony Brook to just 72 yards rushing. Two-time Big South Freshman of the Week running back Edwin Gowins had just 37 yards on the ground.
“Once we were able to stop the run, we made them one-dimensional, and that’s when we got after them,” said Belcher who had eight tackles, including a sack. “We just played ‘Black Hole’ football.”
“They prepared hard and well all-week long,” said UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove. “I know they battled hard for 60 minutes.”
While the Stony Brook rushing attack struggled, Fluellen and the Black Bear running attack had some success, running for 181 yards.
Fluellen ran for 117 yards on 17 carries. The senior running back has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the team’s first three games.
On defense, the Black Bears were led in tackles by cornerback Lionel Nixon Jr. with 11 tackles. Junior college transfer Jonas Rousseau had three sacks for UMaine.
“They outplayed us, physically and emotionally,” added Priore.
Another bright spot for the Black Bears was taking care of the ball. For the second straight game, they did not commit a turnover. Farkes, whose 12-for-22 passing effort for 148 yards paced UMaine, has thrown seven touchdowns to zero interceptions over the last two games.
“We didn’t turn it over. We had a plus-four tonight which is real good,” Cosgrove said. “We make a big deal about that.”
Despite outperforming Stony Brook, Cosgrove believes the team has many areas to improve on, citing specifically the kicking game. Freshman placekicker Brian Harvey missed two field goals on the night, making it four consecutive he has missed.
The Black Bears open Colonial Athletic Association play next Saturday when they head south to play Richmond (2-1, 1-0 CAA). Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.