The Black Bears (2-3) played their first game at Morse Field in over a month, after weeks on the road, letting James Madison run away with it and getting shellacked by Villanova. Suffice to say, they needed a win in the worst possible way.
And they got it on Saturday, rolling past the University of Rhode Island Rams (1-5) by a score of 51-27.
The defense struggled early, as Rhode Island was able to march 75 yards downfield, capped off by a 16-yard touchdown by fourth-year running back T.J. Anderson to put the Rams on top 7-0 with 11:06 left in the first quarter. It was the first time all season that Rhode Island scored on their opening drive.
Maine received a huge break on their opening possession. After allowing a sack on a three-man rush to set up a fourth and 22 from their own 31, the Rams got called for roughing the kicker, giving the Black Bears a fresh set of downs from the 46-yard line. Redshirt first-year quarterback Chris Ferguson found fourth-year wide receiver Jaleel Reed going toward the Rhode Island sideline. Reed would then turn on the afterburners, outrunning the Rhode Island secondary for a 54-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 with 8:41 left in the first.
Rhode Island would strike back on their next possession. On a drive that was very pass heavy, the Rams found paydirt on third down, when redshirt third-year quarterback Tyler Harris connected with second-year wide receiver Aaron Parker for 38 yards on a third and eight. The drive would be capped off by a 14-yard touchdown pass from Harris to redshirt third-year wide receiver Marven Beauvais, extending the lead to 14-7 with 4:06 left in the first.
Maine would keep chipping away on their next drive. It would have stalled, had it not been for gutsy play calling on fourth and two from the Rhode Island 28, with Ferguson finding second-year receiver Jaquan Blair for five and keeping the drive going. Unfortunately, the drive stalled at the 4, as third-year kicker Brandon Briggs nailed a 21-yard chip shot field goal to bring the score to 14-10.
Rhode Island used two big pass plays on the very next possession, including a 44-yard touchdown from redshirt third-year quarterback JaJuan Lawson to Parker, putting the Rams up 21-10, spelling doom and gloom for the Black Bears.
And that is when second-year running back Josh Mack, who carried the ball four times for 32 yards to start the next drive, including a long 23-yarder into Rhode Island territory. Ferguson found fourth-year receiver Marquise Adams to keep the drive alive on third down. The Black Bears plugged away and capped it off with a five-yard touchdown pass to fourth-year receiver Jared Osumah, bringing the score to 21-17.
Whatever adjustments Maine made on defense worked, as they forced a three and out on the next drive. Then came the fireworks.
Third-year punt returner Micah Wright, normally one to call for a fair catch with opposing gunners barrelling down on him, decided to take off, flashing fancy footwork to make both defenders miss and flying down for a 77-yard touchdown return. The extra point was missed, but it was more than enough for the Black Bears to take the lead, 23-21 with 1:02 left in the half.
Maine started off the second half with a bang. On the opening drive, Mack had three separate carries to go 10 or more yards, including a 37-yard run into Rhode Island territory on the first play of the half. The third such run resulted in yet another touchdown, as Mack scampered in from 16 yards out to run the score to 30-21 Black Bears.
The offense continued to roll for Maine. After forcing yet another punt, Ferguson led the Black Bears on a 12-play, 83-yard drive that ended with him floating a little pass to Reed in the back of the end zone from eight yards out to extend the lead to 37-21. It was the second Ferguson to Reed connection of the day.
The defense stepped up even farther on the next Rhode Island possession. Second-year defensive end Kayon Whitaker forced a strip sack on Lawson, recovering the fumble on the Rams’ 12-yard line. After a false start and a holding penalty pushed the Black Bears back to the 27, followed up by an eight-yard run to set up a third and 17, Ferguson found second-year wide receiver Earnest Edwards down the seam for a 19-yard touchdown to put the game out of hand, 44-21 with 2:40 to go in the third.
Rhode Island was forced to punt on the next possession. After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty put the ball at the Rhode Island 42, the Black Bears went into their bag of tricks, as Ferguson connected to Reed for the third time in the game on a flea-flicker from 42 yards out to bring the score to 51-21.
Rhode Island would score once more, on a six-yard pass from Lawson to Beauvais to cut into the deficit 51-27. That would be the score when the horn sounded at the end of the game.
Mack finished with 248 yards on 30 carries, while Ferguson went 18-28 for 214 yards and five touchdowns on the day, with Reed leading the receiving corps with 123 yards and three touchdowns.
The Black Bears will take on the University of Albany Saturday, Oct. 21 at 3:30 p.m. in Albany, N.Y. The Rams head back to Kingston, R.I. for their homecoming matchup against Elon University at noon on Saturday.