ORONO — The calendar said to Fall Back, and that seemed exactly what would happen to the University of Maine football team Saturday.
An early lead evaporated. Stony Brook’s punishing ground game and hard-hitting defense prevented even a single Black Bears first down in the third quarter and well into the fourth.
“We had to take charge,” said Maine quarterback Marcus Wasilewski, a fifth-year senior. “We knew we were down. … We had to go win the game.”
Shrugging off five sacks, Wasilewski engineered a 91-yard scoring drive as No. 10 Maine rallied to beat Stony Brook 19-14 before a crowd of 4,068 at Alfond Stadium.
The victory improved Maine to 8-1 overall and 5-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association. It wasn’t secure until Axel Ofori’s interception at the 15-yard line with four seconds remaining.
“They gave us fits,” said Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove of the Seawolves (3-5, 1-4 CAA).
“They played a real physical style of football against us. They really shut down our run game on offense and put the most pressure we’ve had on Marcus all year long.”
The winning drive included five completions in six attempts by Wasilewski. He hit Derrick Johnson for 14 yards and found Justin Perillo for 18 yards on a throwback pattern against the grain.
On third-and-11, Wasilewski sent a long pass down the left sideline to John Ebeling, who leaped above a defender to catch it for a 34-yard gain. Wasilew-ski then faked a screen pass and once more connected with a wide-open Ebeling for 24 yards and a touchdown to make it 19-14 with a little more than five minutes remaining.
“We didn’t have enough time to run the ball down the field,” said Ebeling, who finished with a game-high six catches for 106 yards. “So we went to the pass game, and people stepped up and made plays.”
A pass for the 2-point conversion failed. Stony Brook had two more possessions, but Kendall James (in coverage) and Randy Samuels (in pursuit of Seawolves quarterback Lyle Negron) thwarted a bootleg pass on fourth-and-4 from the Maine 31 with 2:14 left.
The Black Bears ate up time with a 19-yard run by Ricky Stevens (74 yards on 12 carries) before being forced to punt. Stony Brook took over at its 20 with 40 seconds left and completed one pass before Ofori made the clinching interception on a Hail Mary heave.
The Seawolves, new to the CAA but winners of two NCAA playoff games over the past two years, also missed a short field-goal attempt in the first quarter and saw a third-quarter drive end in an interception by Maine linebacker Troy Eastman at his 5 to preserve a 13-7 lead.
“We just kept scratching and clawing,” Eastman said. “I read the quarterback’s eyes and just flowed to where he was looking, and he threw me one.”
Maine scored the first 13 points on two Sean Decloux field goals and a 2-yard run by Stevens that capped a 74-yard drive.
The Black Bears led 13-0 at halftime but managed a total of only four yards on their next three possessions as Stony Brook churned out a 14-13 lead thanks to a pair of long scoring drives.
“We switched our game plan in the second half,” said gravelly voiced Stony Brook Coach Chuck Priore. “We’re a physical team. We’re big up front. We thought we would be able to do a good job on the line of scrimmage.”
James Kenner led the Seawolves’ running game with 124 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. Tyler Fredericks added 75 yards on 14 carries.
Negron slithered into the end zone on a quarterback sneak for Stony Brook’s first touchdown on fourth-and-1 to cap the opening drive of the second half. Negron completed only 6 of 22 passes and was sacked four times, twice by defensive end Michael Cole.
Cole’s second sack came late in the first half and gave him Maine’s career record with 28. Mike Denino, a 1989 graduate, finished with 27.5.
“I can’t really take it in now but it will be something I can look back on and be proud of,” Cole said. “A few teammates said congratulations to me and then I just got ready to play some more football.”
Middle linebacker Christophe Mulumba led Maine with 13 tackles and defensive tackle Pat Ricard added eight. His brother, free safety Christian Ricard, led Stony Brook with 12 tackles.
“I think our defense played very well all game,” said Priore, whose squad held the nation’s top-ranked Football Championship Subdivision team in third-down efficiency to a measly 3-of-14 success rate and allowed only 70 yards on the ground. “In their regular offense, they were not gaining very many yards … but (on the winning drive) they got their playmakers the ball. That’s the mark of a good football team.”
The Seawolves led in total offense (313-258), first downs (19-13) and time of possession (22 minutes to Maine’s eight in the second half). But for the fourth consecutive game, Maine yielded neither a fumble nor an interception.
“We’re coached up on that a lot,” Wasilewski said. “In games like this, it’s vital that you don’t turn the ball over. Probably one of the reasons why we’re winning is because of that.”
Defense ruled a first half that included three field-goal attempts and only one touchdown, a 2-yard run by Stevens late in the second quarter.
Decloux hit from 33 yards in the first quarter and 38 in the second quarter to give Maine a 6-0 lead. In between, Stony Brook’s left-footed kicker, Graham Ball, hooked a 32-yard attempt.
The Black Bears return to action next Saturday at Albany.
“Every game you’re going to play in this conference can go down to the wire,” Wasilewski said. “If you panic, you’re not going to settle in and make big plays.”
On Saturday, the Black Bears made just enough big plays, and so a special season continues to spring forward.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or[email protected]Twitter: GlennJordanPPH