The University of Maine football team took two steps forward with its rushing game Saturday, but may have ultimately taken one step back.

The Black Bears handed the ball to Nigel Beckford and Darian Davis-Ray 29 times in a 27-17 home victory over Rhode Island. Only once were the tailbacks tackled behind the line of scrimmage.

They combined for 165 yards and two touchdowns, both by Beckford.

But Davis-Ray, a redshirt freshman seeing his first extended playing time, went down late in the game with what was diagnosed as a high ankle sprain. His availability for Saturday’s game at No. 19 Richmond is in doubt.

“He’s had a hard time shaking some nagging injuries,” Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove said of Davis-Ray, who was suspended along with Beckford for the opener for violating Maine’s student-athlete code of conduct.

Davis-Ray followed that loss at Boston College with three healthy weeks at practice and earned the backup spot to Beckford, a sophomore. He made his debut in a loss at Tulane, carrying three times for 5 yards.

The 5-foot-10, 192-pound Davis-Ray split snaps with Beckford for much of Saturday. He ran 12 times for 74 yards with a long gain of 18.

His only problem was in pass protection, Cosgrove said.

“We had some expectations of him,” Cosgrove said. “He came in and did some nice things.”

The ground game produced 210 yards to complement 262 through the air as the Black Bears’ offense found an effective balance. A pile of penalties was the biggest negative.

Cosgrove noticed.

For example, sophomore John Reddington subbed in at right guard for the second half.

The reason?

“Three holding penalties on the guy he replaced,” Cosgrove said, referring to senior Ben Wezel.

Maine (1-2, 1-0 Colonial Athletic Association) was penalized 14 times, including six during a 16-play stretch of the fourth quarter.

“That’s flat-out embarrassing,” Cosgrove said.

So there will be plenty to work on in practice this week, including probably finding a replacement for Davis-Ray.

“We have got to play a lot better,” Cosgrove said. “We’ve got to improve tremendously this week to be able to take on this opportunity the way that we want to.”

Richmond (2-1, 0-0 CAA) is coming off a bye. On Sept 19, they beat Virginia Military Institute, 42-10, in Richmond.

The Spiders forced VMI into five turnovers, scoring two touchdowns on interception returns.

NO ONE IN the CAA is putting up eye-popping numbers like James Madison. The Dukes rose three spots to No. 6 in the FCS poll after spoiling the homecoming at Southern Methodist on Saturday with a touchdown with 27 seconds remaining and a 48-45 win.

James Madison gained 729 yards while becoming the sixth FCS team to knock off an FBS opponent this fall. The Dukes have gained more than 600 yards while winning each of their first four games.

Senior quarterback Vad Lee has been sensational. The transfer from Georgia Tech gained 276 yards rushing, with two touchdowns, and 279 passing for three more scores against SMU. No other player in Division I history had ever gone over 275 in both categories.

James Madison is 6-2 in road games in Everett Withers’ two seasons as coach. The Dukes lead the FCS in total offense.

And yet Withers claimed to be unimpressed.

“There’s a lot of yards out there that we’re leaving out there. We’ve turned the ball over way too much,” he said after Lee also threw three interceptions. “We’re always trying to chase that competitive excellence and we’re not there yet.”

Withers wanted his players to start concentrating on Saturday’s home game against Stony Brook.

“That’s a big challenge for us this week because everybody on this campus is going to pat these kids on the back,” Withers said. “We’re getting ready to play maybe a more physical and more athletic team this week than we played this past week.”

ELON RALLIED in the rain at home Saturday to beat Towson 17-13 for its first CAA victory. The Phoenix joined the conference last year, but went 0-8 in a rocky debut.

“We made a few less mistakes than Towson did and a lot of it was attributable to the elements,” Coach Rich Skrosky said. “To see (the players) have the joy they had after the game in the locker room, that’s one of the reasons we coach.”

Towson took a 13-0 lead but Elon quarterback Connor Christiansen, a redshirt freshman, threw a 35-yard TD pass to Tereak McCray with 53 seconds left in the first quarter to start the comeback.

The Phoenix held Towson scoreless for the final 49 minutes despite their offense turning the ball over twice in their territory.

Towson couldn’t take advantage, even going for first downs on nine fourth-down plays. Elon allowed only three conversions.

“I think there was a feeling that ‘OK, however we need to get it done, we will,'” Skrosky said.

Elon visits New Hampshire on Saturday and plays at Maine on Nov. 14.