ORONO — This is what Joe Harasymiak envisioned for his University of Maine football team all those months ago when he became the nation’s youngest Division I head coach.

This is how he thought his Black Bears would play: fast, aggressive, relentless.

Maine won its third consecutive game Saturday, defeating nationally ranked Albany 20-16 as Dan Collins threw three long touchdown passes and the heralded Black Hole defense stepped up in the final minutes.

An Alfond Stadium record crowd of 10,443 saw Maine improve its record to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association. Albany, ranked in the Top 20 in two national Football Championship Series polls, lost its second straight to drop to 4-2, 1-2.

“Obviously it wasn’t the cleanest of games for either side,” said Harasymiak. “But good football teams, and we’re becoming one I believe, you’ve got to find a way to win. And we did that today.”

Maine’s offense achieved a nice balance, rushing 44 times for 187 yards – led by Darian Davis-Ray with 81 – and Collins threw for 280. He completed only 11 passes but averaged 25.5 yards on them, and threw touchdown passes of 49 yards (Micah Wright, first quarter), 40 yards (Earnest Edwards, second quarter) and 51 yards (Jordan Dunn, third quarter).

The last touchdown pass, where Dunn leaped and reached over Albany defensive back Rayshan Clark to pluck away a possible interception, gave Maine a 20-8 lead.

Then it was up to Maine’s defense, which has struggled this year against the run, to hold the lead. And it did.

While Albany got a 1-yard touchdown run from Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks late in the third quarter (and a 2-point pass from Neven Sussman to Jordan Crockett) to cut the lead to 20-16, the Black Bears kept Albany’s potent offense in check.

Albany gained just 148 rushing yards, with Sussman leading the way with 85 while running an effective quarterback draw. Ibitokun-Hanks, who averaged 117.8 rushing yards per game coming in, was held to 41.

Darrius Hart, starting in place of injured safety DeAndre Scott, had an interception and 10 tackles. Linebacker Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga, who missed last week’s game at Delaware with a concussion, led Maine with 13 tackles.

“That’s who we are,” said Harasymiak.

The Great Danes got the ball back with 7:22 remaining when Abner Logan recovered a Josh Mack fumble at the Albany 37. But a heavy rush on third down forced Sussman into an incompletion, leading to a punt.

The Black Bears punted, with Albany getting the ball at its 27 with 3:49 left. A Sussman completion to Dione Alston went for 36 yards to the Maine 37. On second down from the 36, linebacker Sterling Sheffield – who blocked a field-goal attempt in the third quarter – sacked Sussman from behind for a 10-yard loss as he rolled right to avoid pressure.

“The defensive line was able to flush him out, and the corners and safeties’ coverage was great, making him think about even throwing the ball,” said Sheffield. “So it was up to me to go make a play.”

Then it came down to fourth-and-7 at the Maine 34 and the Black Bears forced an incomplete pass.

“We were not able to finish drives,” said Albany Coach Greg Gattuso. “We’ve certainly got to play better than we did today to have a chance.”

Albany had two first-half drives deep into Maine territory that ended with short field goals by Ethan Stark (27 and 39 yards) as Maine’s defense tightened.

“Every week when we practice, holding the offense to a field goal is a win for us,” said Hart. “We’re used to that. That’s what we go for every time when they get down there. No one puts their head down. No one thinks they’re going to score. That’s what we expect as a defense … That’s the Black Hole defense.”

Now the Black Bears need to continue to push forward.

“Confidence,” said Collins. “I think that’s what we needed after an 0-3 start. I’m not saying that we didn’t believe, but after 0-3 you start looking around at each other and thinking, ‘How’s this season going to go?’

“We believed. We know what we were capable of. Now we’re 3-3 and anything can happen. We’re a confident team right now full of energy.”


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