ORONO — Maine didn’t see Towson coming. Even more, Maine didn’t fear Towson winning. Which may be why those numbers seemed so stark late Saturday afternoon on the big scoreboard in Alfond Stadium.

Towson 40, Maine 30. A conference underdog lost to the bigger underdog.

The team that was predicted to finish ninth in the Colonial Athletic Association lost to the team that was expected to finish last. For as much as Maine has had a chip on its shoulder this season, Towson’s chip has been much bigger.

Certainly Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove and his staff added fuel to the competitive fires this past week. Take ownership of the only unbeaten record in the conference. Keep the five-game unbeaten streak alive, they told their players.

Take pride in having the best overall record in the conference at 7-1. Add one more victory.

Wake up a state that’s so much in love with its high school football teams. Call attention to the nice turnaround from last year’s losing season.

“You’ve got to play football with an edge,” said Cosgrove, picking up the pieces afterward. Play with a chip on your shoulder. Play to validate the victories that were earned in previous weeks.

Play to convince a skeptic population that you’ve earned the attention and the applause. Saturday, on a breezy, sunny day with temperatures well above freezing, the crowd numbered 5,258 but seemed fewer when Maine scored twice in a fourth-quarter rally that fell short.

Such is Maine’s college football culture that so few came to support a winning team. Maybe they also didn’t fear Towson winning. Hey, the Tigers won one game last season and lost 10 others.

Towson isn’t Delaware or James Madison or Richmond or William & Mary, all teams that make up the gold standard of CAA football. Beat Towson? Doesn’t everybody do that? After winning four straight conference games, didn’t its bubble burst last weekend in a loss to Delaware?

No, said Towson Coach Rob Ambrose. The chip on his team’s shoulders was big. “We’re forcing people to notice us. We want that. We’ve been losing for so long, and so far down, we’re working our way up to zero.”

They were so tired of losing, they would eat dirt and sweat blood to win. Losing to Delaware left a taste in their mouths they thought they were rid of. Playing Maine was their first chance to spit it out.

That’s the mindset Maine was up against Saturday, not that pyscho-blather wins football games.

Towson won with an offensive line of mostly sophomores that gave Terrence West and Tremayne Dameron plenty of open spaces to run.

Towson runners picked up 350 yards on 53 carries. That was 6.3 yards every time they carried the ball. You don’t win many football games allowing that.

Maine’s defense had too few big stops.

“They were the most athletic group we’ve seen in a while,” said Raibonne Charles, Maine’s senior defensive lineman. “They played well for young guys.”

Maine lost for the first time since its 35-29 defeat to Pittsburgh on the second Saturday of September. Long enough to forget the slap in the face that accompanies losing.

“I think we may have been in awe of the opportunity,” said Cosgrove. “We haven’t had this type of game here in a while.” Meaning a late-season game with sole possession of first place riding on the outcome.

Cosgrove looked at the attendance number on the scoresheet. He winced and shook his head, mouthing 5,000 quietly. The bandwagon didn’t make its run to Orono.

“Beating Maine is big for us,” said Ambrose. Saturday’s victory was only the second in a 10-game series that stretches back to 1979. The two schools don’t meet regularly.

“Jack Cosgrove-coached teams are always competitive,” said Ambrose. “Especially this year.”

He had the look of a happy man and didn’t mind that others noticed. His team has made the biggest turnaround in all of Division I football. It will play New Hampshire next Saturday in Unitas Stadium outside Baltimore. There’s a buzz following his team. Game-day crowds have been building.

Maine, Towson and New Hampshire now share the conference lead with 5-1 records. A season was not lost for Maine on Saturday.

But Cosgrove and his players have to wonder: Who cares?

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: SteveSolloway