ORONO – No. 8 ranked William & Mary spoiled the University of Maine’s conference opener on Saturday night.

Badly.

With just 20.3 seconds left to play quarterback Michael Paulus threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Chase Hill to lead the Tribe to a 24-21 win.

It was a baffling performance for Maine, which fell into a wild back-and-forth final quarter after leading 14-3 at halftime.

“I’ve experienced some tough losses here. This is as tough as it gets,” said Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove. “And we have only ourselves to blame for lack of discipline. We’re sitting here and it’s our own doing. We’re sitting here with our first conference loss and it’s our own doing.”

Maine, now 1-3, 0-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association, outgained the Tribe 209-97 in the first half and was by every measure looking like a team on its way to victory.

The Black Bears were doing it without leading rusher Jared Turcotte, who was with his wife in Portland awaiting the birth of their first child.

Pushaun Brown rushed for 104 yards and multiple receivers hauled in key passes.

But things unraveled as Maine was hamstrung by penalties on nearly every drive in the second half. In all, Maine was flagged 11 times for a total of 134 yards.

“We self-destructed ourselves,” said quarterback Warren Smith. “There’s nothing else to say … And with some of the dumbest plays we’d seen. A coach can’t yell at you and fix that.

“You need to understand the game. Understand the consequences. Make smarter decisions. That’s something you learn playing backyard ball in your parents’ yard. Play smart. We didn’t play smart.”

Maine led 14-3 until late in the fourth quarter when the Tribe punched in a 10-yard touchdown run with 7:09 to play from the wildcat formation.

On the next drive, linebacker Dante Cook picked off Smith and ran in a score — his shirt being tugged as he chugged into the end zone with 6:46 to play. That gave the Tribe a 17-14 lead.

Maine kept at it.

Freshman Derrick Johnson recovered a fumble on a punt return on the Tribe 20-yard line, setting up what appeared to be the winning score for the Black Bears.

Four plays later, Desmond Randall caught a 2-yard touchdown reception with 2:46 to play to give Maine a 21-17 lead.

But Paulus, who entered the game in the fourth quarter, engineered the winning drive, going 70 yards on 11 plays.

He is the younger brother of Greg Paulus, the former Syracuse quarterback who beat Maine last year.

“As a defense we’re excited (when a QB change occurs.) We know he’s not ready for the action of the game,” said defensive back Vinson Givans.

“But he stepped in and did what he had to do. They executed better than us on that final drive. They came through in the clutch.”

Maine had one more chance to score with just 20 seconds left but couldn’t advance the football.

On its first drive of the game, Maine was stopped at the 2 on fourth down. But the Black Bears scored on their next possession.

Brown capped a 10-play, 54-yard drive with a 2-yard run. The extra point gave Maine a 7-0 lead.

The Tribe kicked a 21-yard field goal at 8:31 of the second quarter on a drive that included a 35-yard passing play.

Trevor Coston had a big return to the William & Mary 45, giving Maine good field position to set up its next score.

Maine went 55 yards on seven plays and Brown scored on an 8-yard run at 2:04.

Maine sacked quarterback Mike Callahan twice for losses on the next series and forced the Tribe four-and-out to take a 14-3 lead into halftime.

NOTES: Offensive linemen Josh Spearin and Matt Barber, and linebacker Mark Masterson missed the game because of injuries.

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

[email protected]