Micah Wright gambles on punt returns for the University of Maine. Coach Joe Harasymiak has had to accept it.

Saturday, it proved costly.

With the score 17-17, Wright tried to field a low kick within his own 5. He fumbled and Colby Reeder of Delaware returned it for a touchdown.

“It was obviously the difference in the football game,” Delaware Coach Danny Rocco said.

Delaware went on to win 31-17 before 7,212 at Fitzpatrick Stadium – Maine’s first game in Portland in 12 years.

The Black Bears totaled 451 yards, including 173 rushing yards from Josh Mack, but didn’t cash in enough, giving up big plays and making big mistakes like the fumble.

“That was a tough one,” Harasymiak said. “I understand what he’s trying to do but usually the cardinal rule is inside your own 10, you don’t touch it.”

Just the week before, Harasymiak spoke of Wright taking chances.

“I won’t hold him back,” he said then. “The great players are going to take risks. You have to trust them to do it. Hopefully it doesn’t come back and hurt us in the future …”

Making matters worse, Wright hurt his knee on the play and could be out for the final two games of the season.

Maine dropped to 4-4 overall and 3-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association, effectively ending any postseason hopes. The Blue Hens improved to 6-3, 4-2.

The Black Bears allowed key gains, had a field goal and a punt blocked, and committed two turnovers that led to 10 points.

“Too much to overcome,” Harasymiak said. “We didn’t deserve to win.”

Harasymiak’s players would likely agree but … Maine wouldn’t allow its players to be interviewed after the game. No explanation was given.

Maine jumped ahead early but it was a frustrating 10-point lead. Delaware fumbled twice in the first 10 minutes and the Black Bears were in Blue Hens’ territory four times in the first quarter.

There was also a likely interception dropped by Darius Hart when a teammate ran into him at the Delaware 10.

“We could have been up 17-0. That dropped interception would have been a pick-6,” Harasymiak said.

On its second possession, Maine drove 40 yards and settled for a 29-yard Brandon Briggs field goal.

Near the end of the quarter, the Black Bears drove 66 yards, capped by a 12-yard fade pass from Chris Ferguson to Wright.

Maine’s two other drives ended on the 45 (with a punt) and the 23 (with a 40-yard field-goal try blocked.

“We let down on special teams today,” Harasymiak said.

Delaware ended the half with two touchdown drives. The first was keyed by a 56-yard pass from J.P. Caruso to Joe Walker. The second was fueled by a third-and-10 screen pass to Gene Coleman that caught Maine blitzing. It was good for 36 yards to the Maine 7.

Walker, who once was the starting quarterback, became a Delaware threat lining up at flanker and sometimes at quarterback. He passed for 42 yards, ran for 55 and caught two passes for 68 yards.

In the third quarter, Delaware followed a Pat Crowley interception of Ferguson with a Frank Raggo 48-yard field goal to make it 17-10.

It was Ferguson’s first interception in four games. He threw for 218 yards.

The Black Bears’ one scoring drive in the second half went 80 yards, all on runs, starting with Mack’s ramble for 39 yards. Joe Fitzpatrick, the former Cheverus High standout, scored from the 8 for a 17-17 game with 9:01 left in the third quarter.

Neither team did much until Reeder’s recovery of the fumbled punt and the 4-yard touchdown return with 13:22 remaining.

The deflated Black Bears went three-and-out on their next drive. Delaware got the ball again and powered its way 58 yards in 13 plays, eating up 7½ minutes. Caruso scored from the 1 and the Blue Hens led 31-17.

“We were at our best when it mattered the most, at the end,” Rocco said.

Maine quickly drove to the Delaware 14, but a sack and three incompletions ended any hope.

Maine plays next Saturday at Fenway Park against UMass (2-7), then ends the season at home with Stony Brook.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH