ORONO — Just when Maine’s offense bloomed Saturday, its defense wilted. It’s been that kind of football season.

Maine rallied late but could never take the lead, losing a third consecutive game, this time 27-22 to Elon before an announced crowd of 3,131 at Alfond Stadium.

“The offense finally got it going but we weren’t around in the first half when the defense needed us,” Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove said after his team dropped its home finale to fall to 3-7 on the season, 3-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association.

“We never were great together and that’s why we lost the football game.”

Maine turned the ball over three times in the first half and managed only 128 yards to allow the Phoenix (4-6, 3-4) to run out to a 17-0 lead. Elon got 10 points off two fumble recoveries, one by each Black Bear quarterback.

Drew Belcher started and fumbled on his first snap to set up a Phoenix touchdown. Dan Collins came in on the third series and played the rest of a cold, windy afternoon. But he also fumbled to help Elon get a second-quarter field goal.

“We felt the game was getting away from us early,” Cosgrove said of the change. “It became Danny’s game as we got behind as we did. We had to play catchup; we felt throwing the football was the way to do it.”

It eventually worked. Collins lofted a pass to Micah Wright, who beat press coverage down the near sideline and galloped for a 60-yard score with 10:09 left to cut the deficit to 17-10.

After Black Bears linebacker Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga made a diving interception, Maine was quickly on the move again. This time Collins found Jordan Dunn in the back corner of the end zone for a 6-yard score. But Sam Lenson, pressed into duty when place-kicker Sean Decloux was sidelined with an injury, missed the extra point that would have tied it.

That’s when Elon finally found a running game.

The Phoenix marched 66 yards in eight plays, capped by a 13-yard run by freshman Malcolm Summers to take a 24-16 lead with 3:46 left. Summers ran for 53 yards on the drive; Elon had 56 total in the game.

Elon Coach Rich Skrosky, whose team is last in the CAA in rushing offense, praised Summers for havinge the vision to take the ball around right end for the decisive score.

“It’s a sync play so it can go inside, but the Maine defense collapsed on it,” Skrosky said. “I’m not sure if four weeks ago he doesn’t put that ball up inside and not see the bounce outside.”

Maine turned the ball over on downs and Elon got a 33-yard field goal from John Gallagher for a 27-16 lead that sealed the win in its first trip to Orono. It was the most points the Phoenix have scored all season.

The Black Bears scored on a 7-yard pass from Collins to Wright as time expired. Wright caught nine passes for 198 yards. Collins completed 23 of 49 throws for 295. But the fourth-quarter offense was an afterthought in another game of missed opportunities.

Maine gained only 69 yards on 32 rushing attempts against a defense that was allowing a league-worst 217 per game. Twice in the third quarter, the Black Bears had two plays to gain one yard to sustain drives and failed on all four attempts, turning the ball over on downs once and settling for a Lenson 28-yard field goal the next time.

With a chance to pin Elon deep in the second quarter, Maine punter James DeMartini shanked a 7-yarder. Lenson’s missed extra point was the third of the season for Maine.

The mistakes were too much to overcome.

Cosgrove was asked if there was any comfort to be had in his team’s late-game response.

“Nah. If we take solace, then we’re saying it’s OK for them to run 65 yards down the field and score,” he said.

“We got our butts kicked a couple of times running the football. … They just ran their zone. We were out of our gaps.”=


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