NEWARK, Del. – Rarely has a University of Maine football team experienced such futility against an opponent’s passing attack as it did Saturday against Delaware.
Despite surrendering 415 passing yards, the Black Bears still had a chance to win on the game’s final snap. But fourth-ranked Delaware emerged with a 43-38 Atlantic 10 victory in front of 22,030 fans.
Delaware (4-1 overall, 3-0 A-10), the defending Division I-AA national champion, survived a furious comeback by No. 8 UMaine. The Bears (2-2, 0-1 A-10) erased a 20-point first-quarter deficit and took the lead late – only to relinquish it with 45 seconds remaining.
“We’re down 20-0 and it looked like it was going to be a hundred before we started to get the thing right,” said UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove.
“We didn’t respond early the way we would have liked to, or needed to, to beat this football team. Hence, we’re behind and playing catch-up,” he said. “We battled our butts off all day long, were persistent in our effort and all the things we had to do, but we didn’t get it at the end.”
The Bears appeared helpless at times as Hens quarterback Sonny Riccio and his corps of receivers picked apart the UMaine secondary. Riccio, protected by a stout offensive line, set Delaware records with 33 pass completions and 51 attempts. Wideout Justin Long made a school-record 16 catches good for 236 yards.
“One of the things we knew was that we probably couldn’t run the ball on them with a steady diet,” said Delaware coach K.C. Keeler.
“We were taking advantage of some quick-hitting things, taking advantage of their aggressiveness on defense,” said Riccio, a transfer from Division I-A Missouri. “I was putting it in places where the receivers can catch and run. They made me look good tonight.”
Delaware, operating out of a no-huddle scheme in the shotgun formation with only one running back, was able to hit numerous pass plays before UMaine could react. The Bears seemed to afford receivers too much of a cushion.
The Hens passed for 295 yards in the first half against a UMaine team that fully expected them to run the ball much more often.
“It’s tough in that kind of set,” said Bears cornerback John Baumgartner. “You know it’s probably going to be pass and we’re trying to send our pressure. If we don’t get the pressure there, it’s a tough place to be in.”
UMaine, which began to regain the momentum while scoring 21 points in the second quarter, took the lead midway through the fourth. Mike Mellow kicked a 21-yard field goal after a 58-yard drive stalled out at the UD 4-yard line.
“I knew that we were going to come back and we would give them a fight,” said UMaine’s Christian Pereira, who made nine catches for 143 yards and two TDs. “We felt that we can’t play to not lose the game, we have to play to win the game.”
However, after forcing the Hens to punt on their ensuing possession, the Bears failed to pick up one yard for a first down on consecutive run plays. That gave Delaware the ball back with 3:34 to play.
“It was stopping us on the third-and-1 that turned the game in their favor and gave them field position for the winning touchdown,” Cosgrove said.
Sidney Haugabrook’s 20-yard punt return to the UM 47 ignited another drive. The Bears burned two timeouts before Niquan Lee scored the last of his four touchdowns on a 1-yard plunge with 45 seconds left to give Delaware a 43-38 lead.
UMaine quarterback Ron Whitcomb (22-for-40, 310 yards, 3 TDs) completed three passes to get the Bears to the UD 28 with two seconds left. His “jump ball” pass to Pereira in the end zone was batted down by Hens safety Kyle Campbell.
UMaine started believing it could complete the comeback in the third quarter after Delaware kicked a field goal but instead took a penalty-generated first down at the UM 14. Two plays later, strong safety Brandon McGowan (nine tackles) picked off Riccio and motored 84 yards to the UD 8.
That set up Williams’ 7-yard scoring run that got the Bears within 30-28 with 9:23 left.
Delaware made it 37-28 early in the fourth when a 60-yard pass from Riccio to Long set up another Lee 1-yard TD dive. The Bears responded with Arel Gordon’s 33-yard kickoff return that sparked a three-play drive capped by a 10-yard TD toss from Whitcomb to Pereira.
Linebacker Agean Robinson led the UMaine defense with 10 tackles. Daren Stone had nine.
The Bears had no answers for the Hens’ passing game early. Delaware amassed 350 total yards, 295 through the air, while dissecting the UMaine secondary.
The Hens scored on five of their six first-half possessions, twice building their lead to 20 points. Riccio completed 24 of 32 passes, with Long snaring 10 throws for 141 yards (1 TD).
UMaine was jumpstarted by Gordon’s 32-yard kickoff return after Delaware went up 20-0. Whitcomb then found tight end and Newark native Josh Radulski for a 40-yard completion and Williams raced 18 yards for a score on the next play to put the Bears on the scoreboard.
The Hens answered with a 73-yard march and Lee’s 1-yard TD dive, restoring the lead to 27-7 with 6:52 left in the half. UMaine countered, racing 71 yards with Pereira making a leaping catch in double coverage on a 20-yard TD throw from Whitcomb.
Delaware responded with a Brad Shushman’s 41-yard field goal, but the Bears retaliated with a 66-yard scoring drive culminating in a 7-yard touchdown pass from Whitcomb to Radulski that made it 30-21 at halftime.
BLUE HENS 43, BLACK BEARS 38
Maine (2-2) 0 21 7 10 – 38
Delaware (4-1) 13 17 0 13 – 43
D – Riccio 12 run (Shushman kick)
D – Long 28 pass from Riccio (kick failed)
D – Lee 1 run (Shushman kick)
M – Williams 18 run (Mellow kick)
D – Lee 1 run (Shushman kick)
M – Pereira 20 pass from Whitcomb (Mellow kick)
D – Shushman 41 field goal
M – Radulski 7 pass from Whitcomb (Mellow kick)
M – Williams 7 run (Mellow kick)
D – Lee 1 run (Shushman kick)
M – Pereira 10 pass from Whitcomb (Mellow kick)
M – Mellow 21 field goal
D – Lee 1 run (pass failed)
First downs 21 32
Rushing att.-yards 27-87 36-145
Passing comp.-att. 22-42 33-51
Passing yards 310 415
Total yards 397 560
Punts-avg. 6-41.7 4-35.8
Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-0
Intercepted by 1 1
Penalties-yards 12-71 5-53
Maine: Williams 25-85, Whitcomb 2-2; Delaware: Starks 14-76, Riccio 11-35, Lee 7-13, Long 1-13, Bleiler 2-8, Team 1-0
Maine: Whitcomb 22-40-1-310, Team 0-2-0-0; Delaware: Riccio 33-51-1-415
Maine: Pereira 9-143, Ry. Waller 5-44, Williams 3-40, Radulski 2-47, McMahan 2-16, Gordon 1-20; Delaware: Long 16-236, Boler 9-80, Bleymaier 5-50, Starks 2-44, Crescione 1-5