In their first conference game the University of Maine Black Bears men’s football team faced off against the Villanova University Wildcats on Saturday, Oct. 1. While UMaine was able to make it somewhat competitive in the second half they gave up too many big plays, and drives stalling out because of penalties became too big of a hurdle to overcome and they fell 45-20.
“Stopping their offense was going to be important, and we didn’t do that. Offensively, we had our moments. Some of it has to do with penalties that got us off to a slow start that gets us behind the change. But when we were penalty free, we were able to move the ball,” head coach Jordan Stevens said after the game.
UMaine entered this game 0-3, coming off of a 38-17 loss to FBS opponent Boston College while the Wildcats entered this game 2-2, coming off of a 49-42 loss to Monmouth University.
Villanova struck first on their first drive thanks to big back-to-back runs from third-year quarterback Connor Watkins on a scramble for 21 yards and a pitch reverse to Rayjoun Pringle for 19. After the two big runs, however, the Black Bears were able to hold strong on defense and force Villanova to kick a field goal that fifth-year kicker Matthew Macurio booted through from 39 yards out to make it 3-0 Wildcats.
After a holding penalty stopped UMaine in their tracks Villanova got the ball back with excellent field position at the 41. The Wildcats quickly moved down the field thanks to fourth-year running back TD Ayo-Durojaiye, which set up a five-yard rushing touchdown from fifth-year running back Jalen Jackson to give Villanova the 10-0 lead.
UMaine was finally able to get on the board at the beginning of the second quarter thanks to a 10-play, 65-yard drive that resulted in QB Joe Fagnano finding third-year wide receiver Montigo Moss in the end zone. Moss made a ridiculous one-handed catch after “Mossing” the defender, a term that was created in reference to his father, Randy Moss. The catch cut into the Wildcats’ lead by three.
Following the Black Bears’ score, the Wildcats responded with a long 12-play drive that took up over seven minutes of the clock. This was highlighted by a Watkins run where it looked like he was about to get sacked twice but he avoided the arm tackles and ran for 15 yards and the first. Nine plays later Villanova capitalized on UMaine’s poor tackling and Watkins found fourth-year wide receiver Jaaron Hayek in the middle of the endzone to go up 17-7.
After a four-and-out by the Black Bears the Wildcats responded much quicker this time as Watkins found a wide-open Hayek after fourth-year defensive back Benito Speight tripped in man-to-man coverage on Hayek. This allowed Hayek to walk into the endzone untouched from 83 yards out to give the Wildcats a commanding 24-7 lead.
UMaine was able to score on their next drive. Fagnano’s pass should have been intercepted by third-year defensive back Jalen Goodman but the Black Bears’ caught a massive break as it went through his hands and right into the hands of fifth-year wide receiver Zavier Scott. Scott easily walked into the endzone to bring the deficit to 14 right before halftime.
While the Black Bears were able to score, they left too much time on the clock, which gave the Wildcats the chance to answer back. Thanks to big catches from Hayek and first-year wide receiver Jaylen Sanchez, Watkins found Hayek once again wide open for an 18-yard touchdown and Hayek’s third of the day to bring the score 31-14 at halftime.
The third quarter did not start off any better for the Black Bears after they were forced to punt again. Villanova capitalized on UMaine’s mistakes as Watkins found Hayek wide open once more, burning Speight this time for a 42-yard touchdown that gave the Wildcats a 38-14 lead.
After trading punts with Villanova UMaine was able to drive back down the field and score one more touchdown. On the first play of the fourth quarter Stevens called for Fagnano to hand the ball off to fifth-year running back Elijah Barnwell. Instead of running it, Barnwell lined up to throw and caught the Wildcats off guard as he was able to find fourth-year tight end Shawn Bowman wide open for the touchdown. UMaine decided to go for two in order to cut the deficit to 16 points, but Fagnano’s pass fell incomplete and the score remained 38-20.
Villanova was forced to punt on their next drive and the Black Bears looked like they were going to be able to make it a game; however, they were called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty which forced the offense to start on the nine-yard line. Fagnano’s ensuing pass was read perfectly by Goodman and he took it to the house for his first career interception, which was the final nail in the coffin as the Black Bears fell 45-20.
Fagnano finished the day going 24-38 for 192 yards and two touchdowns to one interception. Barnwell led the team in rushing with nine carries for 53 yards, and Bowman led the team with seven receptions for 55 yards and a score.
“We need to do a better job tackling. Today, we were not as effective. You could point to a couple of things on each side of the ball that really played into the outcome of the game,” head coach Jordan Stevens said.
UMaine will travel to Virginia next week to take on the Hampton University Pirates on Oct. 8 and will return home to face off against Monmouth University on Oct. 15.