KINGSTON, R.I. — For the last couple of weeks, the University of Maine’s defensive coaching staff put an emphasis on creating turnovers. Saturday, that work paid off.

The Black Bears intercepted five passes – two by defensive linemen – in a 28-21 victory over Rhode Island at Meade Stadium.

Jason Matovu secured the win with an end-zone interception on the game’s last play. Defensive end Connor Walsh returned another interception 48 yards for a touchdown in Maine’s fourth consecutive win.

Maine created only seven turnovers all season entering the game – three fumble recoveries and four interceptions.

“Obviously the five interceptions were huge,” said Coach Joe Harasymiak. “That sort of made up for the yardage we gave up. But we haven’t done that all year, in terms of turning the ball over like that, so it was nice to see.”

Rhode Island quarterback Jordan Vazzano threw for a career-high 347 yards – the first time a Rams quarterback has thrown for over 300 since 2009.

But Maine (4-3 overall, 3-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association) made big plays when needed.

The first interception was by safety Darrius Hart in the first quarter – Hart’s third of the season – on a ball tipped by Maine defensive back Tayvon Hall. Then cornerback Najee Goode intercepted a Vazzano pass at the Maine 4 late in the second quarter.

Walsh’s interception return gave Maine a 21-14 lead with 37 seconds left in the third quarter. Maine linebacker Kayshawn Wilson blitzed from the left and deflected the pass into the air. Defensive lineman Pat Ricard batted it – right to Walsh, who ran in untouched.

“Thank God I didn’t catch it because if I did, I probably would have been tackled,” said Ricard.

Defensive tackle Darius Greene later dropped back into coverage and made a diving interception at the Maine 24 with 12:51 left in the game.

And then Matovu, who joined the Black Bears as a walk-on and earned a full scholarship this year, secured the win with his pick, which was tipped to him by linebacker Sterling Sheffield.

“It’s big,” said Ricard. “We need to create turnovers, something that’s been lacking throughout the season. I think that’s one of the main reasons we won the game today, the five turnovers.”

Harasymiak said the Black Bears now need to do is turn turnovers into points. Only Walsh’s interception return led to any points.

“We’ve got to start making plays off them,” said Harasymiak. “If we can do that, that’s how we can start putting these games away.”

Still, said Rhode Island Coach Jim Fleming, those interceptions had an impact: “They stopped the drives. And those were point-worthy drives.”

The last time a Maine player returned an interception for a touchdown was Trevor Bates on Nov. 8, 2014, a 33-20 win over Richmond.

MAINE’S LAST four-game winning streak came in 2013, when it won seven straight from Sept. 28 to Nov. 16.

The Black Bears are at William & Mary next Saturday. The Tribe had a bye this week.

A win there would put the Black Bears in pretty good shape heading into a Nov. 5 home game with nationally ranked Villanova.

“We’re 3-1 in the league with four left and it’s all in our control,” said Harasymiak.

“It’s all conference games. We control our destiny and there’s no one else to blame but ourselves.”

SPENCER CAREY, the junior wide receiver from Fairfield and Lawrence High, was back after missing four games with a broken right hand. He was in on special teams.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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