PITTSBURGH – The University of Maine football team arrived here expecting to make plays in the passing game during a nonconference matchup against Big East foe Pitt.
It was a litmus test, and the Black Bears passed, though they took a 35-29 loss Saturday. Maine presented plenty of problems for the Panthers, both throwing the ball and pestering Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri.
“We went after them,” said Black Bears Coach Jack Cosgrove. “We felt like we could force the issue a little bit, and we were able to do that.”
Maine’s defense recorded seven sacks and picked off Sunseri twice. Defensive end Michael Cole finished with 2.5 sacks and also had eight tackles, including three for a loss. Linebacker Arron Achey added two sacks.
“If everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing, someone is bound to come free,” Cole said. “We were lucky enough to clean them up today.”
Offensively, quarterback Warren Smith completed 27 of 45 passes for 334 yards and three touchdowns.
Maine’s success frustrated Panthers Coach Todd Graham, whose team has yielded 610 passing yards in two games.
“Defensively, we’re giving up stupid plays in the passing game,” Graham said. “It’s ridiculous, and it should not be happening.”
Maine tight end Derek Buttles caught seven passes for 148 yards and had an impressive 22-yard touchdown that he caught falling backward while his helmet came flying off. Wide receiver Derek Session added five catches for 50 yards and a touchdown. Derric Johnson caught five passes for 54 yards.
“I thought we were going to be able to throw the football on them, and everything worked out,” Smith said.
Maine (1-1) punted on its first two possessions, while Pitt (2-0) had a touchdown and two field goals to lead, 12-0.
The Black Bears didn’t pick up a first down until early in the second quarter when Smith found Buttles for an 11-yard pass on third and 7 from the Maine 26, but that seemed to ignite the Black Bears, as Smith found Buttles for that tumbling catch to cap the drive, a play he made with Pitt safety Jason Hendricks draped all over him.
Trailing 20-7 in the third, Maine recorded its sixth and seventh sacks of the game on back-to-back plays. Then a wild snap caused a 4-yard punt for Pitt. Two plays, 47 yards and 39 seconds later, Smith found Session for a 5-yard touchdown pass. Backup quarterback Chris Treister of Portland scored on the two-point conversion to pull Maine within five at 20-15.
But Ray Graham answered with his third touchdown of the game, and Zach Brown added another scoring run early in the fourth for a 35-15 Pitt lead. Maine fought back with a 1-yard touchdown run with 3:16 left in the game from David Hood and Smith’s third touchdown pass, a 2-yarder to Mauri McDonald with 9 seconds left.
The strong finish was a pleasant surprise for Cosgrove.
“We came out here to win a football game, and we didn’t do that so we’re disappointed,” Cosgrove said. “One of the concerns last week is that we didn’t play 60 minutes, but I thought we did that this week.”