UMaine running back Emmanuel Reed looks for room against Towson on Saturday night in Orono. The Black Bears struggled again to establish their running game, gaining only 68 yards on 19 rushes. Peter Buehner / University of Maine

Missed tackles. Missed blocks. Misreads.

Everything unraveled in a hurry Saturday night for the University of Maine in the second half of its highly anticipated Colonial Athletic Association game against Towson.

Trailing by one point with 10:26 remaining in the third quarter, Maine gave up 28 consecutive points to fall 45-23 to the Tigers at Alfond Stadium. Both teams came into the game ranked in the Top 10 of the Football Championship Subdivision national polls.

Maine (1-2, 0-1 CAA) will have to regroup quickly with road games the next two Saturdays, at Colgate (0-3) and Villanova (3-0). The Black Bears didn’t hide their disappointment in their second consecutive loss.

“I feel like it’s a lack of execution,” said senior linebacker Taji Lowe. “We came into the season wanting to be the best defense in the country and right now we’re not playing to that level. So we’ve just got to finish our plays and keep working, and we’ll get there eventually.”

Last season the Black Bears led the nation in rushing defense, allowing 79.2 yards per game and just 2.4 yards per carry. A week after allowing 395 rushing yards in a 26-18 loss at Georgia Southern (a Football Bowl Subdivision team), the defense couldn’t contain Towson.

Tigers quarterback Tom Flacco evaded pass rushers to run for a team-high 68 yards and throw for 232. Towson rushed for 172 yards on 37 carries (4.6 yards per carry) – despite losing senior running back Shane Simpson, one of the most dynamic players in the FCS, to a leg injury midway through the first quarter.

Maine lost even though its offense racked up 469 yards to 416 for Towson (3-0, 1-0 CAA). Chris Ferguson threw for 401 yards and a touchdown, but threw four interceptions for the first time. Three of them led to Towson touchdowns.

“I’ve had similar games two years ago, probably even last year, where games challenge you, they make you think a lot,” Ferguson said. “I just take it as a challenge. I accept what’s going on and I work harder.”

Maine’s inability to finish drives early also was critical. The Black Bears were forced to kick field goals on their first two drives, Kenny Doak connecting from 30 and 45 yards.

“They were 6 for 8 for touchdowns in the red zone,” said Maine Coach Nick Charlton. “So they scored touchdowns and we kicked field goals. It’s great to see Kenny make field goals and everything but at the end of the day, we’ve got to be able to get a yard. It starts with me as a play caller, and then also us executing and understanding our identity on offense.”

This season that identity has been all about the passing game, which ranks first in the conference with 379.7 yards per game. Maine ranks 11th of 12 CAA teams in rushing, with 90.3 yards per game.

Again on Saturday, Maine couldn’t run effectively, gaining only 68 yards on 19 rushes. Trailing 7-6, on its third drive of the game, Maine had a second-and-1 from the Towson 44 and couldn’t pick up the first down, a run by Joe Fitzpatrick on fourth down coming up a foot short.

“We’ve just got to execute, 11 guys doing their job,” said Ferguson. “If someone doesn’t do their job, if it’s third-and-1, second-and-1, second-and-10, it doesn’t really matter. We’re not going to have a positive play.”

This season the defense mirrors the offense. Maine is tops in the CAA in passing defense, (137.0 yards per game) and 11th in rushing defense (223.3). On Saturday night the Black Bears got their first sack of the season after making 47 in 14 games last year.

Maine’s linebacking corps took another hit Saturday when Jaron Grayer went out with a left shoulder injury. With Deshawn Stevens already out for the season with an Achilles injury, Maine is  getting perilously thin at the position. When Maine plays Colgate at noon on Saturday, sophomore Adrian Otero and redshirt freshman Myles Taylor are next in line to start.

“It’s next man up,” said Lowe. “I think Adrian and Myles did a nice job stepping in. Now they’ve just got to pick it up, get in the film room, get in the playbook and we’ll all work together to get them to the level we need to be.”

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