ORONO — It was a day for special teams and big defensive plays for the University of Maine football team in a 31-26 win over Merrimack.

Black Bear senior defensive back Rich Carr blocked a pair of extra-point attempts, and Maine returned each for two points. That’s four points to the Black Bears instead of two points to the Warriors, and that was the difference in the game. Rather than being up a point, the Warriors trailed by five.

Those two big special teams plays, combined with four turnovers – the first four forced by Maine all season – and a late defensive stop inside the 5-yard line helped the Black Bears overcome a Merrimack offense which outgained them, 362 yards to 263. Maine also had 118 yards in penalties.

The win was the first of the season for Maine, now 1-2, and was played in front of 5,041 fans. Merrimack is now 2-1.

“It was sloppy. Overall, anytime you get a stop on the 5-yard line when they’ve got a fresh set of downs, and we end the game in victory formation, that’s a positive,” said Maine head coach Nick Charlton.

According to NCAA FCS stats, this is just the third time a team has recorded two defensive extra points in a game in FCS history.

Carr’s first blocked extra point came early in the third quarter, after Victor Dawson’s 1-yard touchdown run cut Maine’s lead to 10-6. Kolubah Pewee, Jr. scooped up the ball and ran it in to give Maine two points and a 12-6 lead.

After Tyvon Edmonds scored on a 2-yard run to cut Maine’s lead to 29-26 with 29 seconds left in the third quarter, Carr did it again, this time picking up the ball himself and running for two and a 31-26 lead. The first blocked kick, Merrimack Coach Dan Curran blamed on slow execution on his team’s part. The second one, Curran said, Carr went unblocked. Carr said he wasn’t blocked on either one.

“All week in practice, we emphasized if we go hard enough, we can block the field goals. I was just trying to make a play for the team and put us in a position to win,” Carr said.

With three wideouts out due to injury, wide receiver Jacari Carter had a huge game for Merrimack, catching 18 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns. Sixty-two percent of Merrimack quarterback Westin Elliott’s (29 for 48 for 282 yards) completions went to Carter, who was often open for short gains in the flats.

Maine led 31-26 with 9:10 left in the game when the Warriors began a drive at their own 26. In seven plays, Merrimack had first-and-goal at the Maine 4-yard line. Maine stuffed running back Victor Dawson for a 1-yard loss on first down. On second down, Vince Thomas tackled Carter for a 1-yard loss on a reception near the right sideline.

On third down, Westin Elliott’s pass to Pat Conroy was broken up by free safety Fofie Bazzie. Elliott went to Carter in the left corner of the end zone, but Carr got a hand on it to end the threat. Taking over with 3:15 left, the Black Bears ran out the clock for the win.

“All I can say is, we’re the ‘Black Hole.’ It’s about make-a-play mentality. So it doesn’t matter how many passes (Carter) caught. All we can do is play the next down. In that moment, we had to lock in,” said Bazzie, who led Maine with 13 tackles.

Maine had two interceptions in the second half, each deep in its own territory. The first came when Merrimack went for it on fourth-and-19 from the Maine 25 late in the third quarter, with Abdul Stewart picking off Elliott at the 2-yard line and returning it the Maine’s 29. With 11:34 left in the game, Ray Miller intercepted Elliott at the Maine 18.

“We gave ourselves a shot to win in the fourth quarter. We got into the red zone. Give them credit. They found a way to get a stop when there back was against the wall,” Curran said. “It’s never just one thing. You look back early in the game, we spotted them a couple points with the turnovers, and the point after attempts were huge.”

Making his first start in place of injured Joe Fagnano, Maine quarterback Derek Robertson started slowly, completing just 6 of 13 passes for 64 yards in the first half. He finished 11 for 23 for 141 yards and one touchdown, a 51-yard pass to running back Freddie Brock to give Maine a 29-20 lead early in the third quarter.

“It’s obviously good to get the win, but obviously there’s room for improvement,” Robertson said. “We repped (the touchdown pass play) that up in practice all week, and it looked good. Freddie made a play.”

Maine capitalized on a pair of Merrimack fumbles in the first quarter for 10 points. Elijah Barnwell (17 carries for 78 yards) scored on a 2-yard run to give the Black Bears a 7-0 lead with 9:31 left in the first quarter, and Jonny Messina added a 26-yard field goal minutes later. Brock added 47 yards on 10 carries to go with his touchdown catch, and Maine ran for 124 yards as a team.

“We felt like Derek in his first performance, you’ve got to usually help out with the run game, and we wanted to get it going anyway,” Charlton said. “At times we did a really good job and were able to stay with it. Derek played solid. There’s plenty of throws there we missed, and it wasn’t all Derek.”

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