ORONO — With its football season teetering on the edge, the University of Maine came up short Saturday, losing 24-17 to Richmond in a Colonial Athletic Association game before 5,126 at Alfond Stadium.

The Black Bears’ final, frantic drive ended when Daniel Jones of Richmond intercepted freshman quarterback Joe Fagnano’s third-down pass at the goal line with 26 seconds remaining.

“Really disappointed,” said Maine Coach Nick Charlton. “Hats off to Richmond for winning that game but we’re very, very disappointed that we did not … We’ve just got to play better. Unfortunately every time we had momentum we weren’t able to capitalize on it.”

The loss was severely damaging to Maine’s FCS playoff hopes. A national semifinalist a year ago, and CAA champion, the Black Bears fell to 2-4 overall, 0-3 in the CAA. Richmond improved to 3-3 and 2-1.

“Obviously a huge win against a quality football team,” said Richmond Coach Russ Huesman. “Our guys gutted one out. Somehow, some way.”

The Black Bears started the game without senior wide receiver Earnest Edwards, out with a fractured nose suffered during the week. And then lost junior quarterback Chris Ferguson, who suffered a sprained right foot on the first drive and was pulled in the second quarter.

And while Fagnano played well in Ferguson’s absence – completing 10 of 16 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown, and rushing for another 54 – Maine faltered at critical moments.

Maine led 10-7 at the half but the advantage could have been larger. Kenny Doak missed two field goals – 46 yards wide left and 37 yards wide right. Then the defense suffered a critical breakdown in the third quarter.

Fagnano had just thrown an 87-yard touchdown pass, a perfectly thrown ball to Andre Miller in stride five yards behind the secondary, to give the Black Bears a 17-14 lead with 45 seconds left in the third.

That lead lasted all of 15 seconds. On the Spiders’ first play after the kickoff, Joe Mancuso, who had scored on two short touchdown runs, found a wide-open Keyston Fuller down the left seam. Fuller caught the ball with no defender within 15 yards and cruised in for a 66-yard touchdown and a 21-17 Richmond lead.

Huesman admitted to not seeing the play. “I was busy yelling at my defensive coaches,” he said.

But Maine safety Joshua Huffman said the defense broke down. “I think it was just bad coverage,” said Huffman. “Bad communication, really. We didn’t communicate and that’s what happens when you don’t communicate out there.”

Richmond made it 24-17 on a Jake Larson 26-yard field goal with 6:53 remaining. Then Maine had two chances to at least tie it.

The first ended when Fagnano found Miller for 12 yards on a fourth-and-14 from the Richmond 31. But the defense held and Jaquan Blair returned a punt 30 yards to Richmond’s 17 with 1:57 left.

Two Joe Fitzpatrick (93 rushing yards) runs and Maine had a first down at the 6. But Fagnano bobbled a shotgun snap on first down and was tackled for a 4-yard loss. Then Fitzpatrick was stopped for no gain.

After a Maine timeout, Fagnano looked for Blair in the end zone but Jones stepped in front for the interception. “Tough play overall,” said Fagnano.

Now Maine has to regroup for its final six games, knowing a playoff spot is probably out of reach.

“I have to evaluate everything,” said Charlton. “We have a system and a culture, and things that we’ve built here that I’ve been a part of, and the older guys as well. When people go down, it doesn’t matter. It’s got to be the next man up and we’ve got to find ways to win those games.”

 

 

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