WATERVILLE – Just when it looked like inconsistent play by special teams might cost the Bowdoin College football team a victory over rival Colby, the Polar Bears’ special teams helped put the game away.

Bowdoin missed three field goals and two extra-point tries, but the Polar Bears returned the game’s opening kickoff for a score, then converted a blocked punt for a touchdown in the third quarter to take the lead for good.

Bowdoin’s defense added a touchdown on an interception return before stopping the Mules on a fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the final quarter to preserve a 26-21 win.

“Our special teams were on and off all day. We had two, three missed field goals and a couple missed extra points. So for the other guys to come up big was huge,” said Bowdoin linebacker Ian Vieira, who returned an interception 17 yards in the third quarter to stake Bowdoin to a 26-14 lead. “That kick return coming into the game, that kick return just sparked us and got us going.”

The win gave Bowdoin (3-5) its fourth outright Colby-Bates-Bowdoin championship in five years; the Polar Bears shared the title with Colby and Bates last year. It was also the Polar Bears’ fifth straight victory over Colby (4-4).

“We didn’t give ourselves much of a chance to win today. We had to continually overcome our mistakes. Ultimately, we just couldn’t. There wasn’t enough time left in the game,” Colby Coach Ed Mestieri said.

Colby’s Connor Walsh caught a 7-yard pass from Nick Kmetz to cut Bowdoin’s lead to 26-21 in the final minute of the third quarter. After forcing the Polar Bears to punt, the Mules went on a nine play, 81-yard drive.

On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Kmetz threw to tight end Nathaniel Carson in the back of the end zone, but Bowdoin safety Beau Breton knocked the ball away with 9:17 to play.

Colby was out of timeouts, and the Polar Bears were able to run 8:29 off the clock before punting with 48 seconds left. Starting at their own 4, the Mules got to their own 38 before losing the ball on downs with five seconds left.

Pat Noone opened the game with an 89-yard kickoff return. Noone started to his left and evaded a tackle before cutting back to the right.

Noone (eight catches, 112 yards) caught a 22-yard touchdown pass with 8:02 left in the second quarter, and Kevin Miao ran in the two-point conversion to give the Polar Bears a 14-0 lead.

Colby answered with a 1-yard touchdown run by Conor Tidgwell just before halftime, then drove 69 yards on the opening possession of the second half, tying the game when Kmetz threw an 8-yard pass to Patrick Burns.

Bowdoin had chances to build on its lead in the first half, but Bill Donahue missed an extra point and field-goal tries of 28, 22 and 38 yards.

Midway through the third quarter, special teams came up big for the Polar Bears when Brandon Garner blocked a punt and Sean O’Malley recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown. Again the Polar Bears missed the extra point, this time by Jimmy Garvey, and held a 20-14 lead.

With 2:42 left in the third quarter, Vieira’s interception return pushed Bowdoin’s lead to 26-14.