Junior linebacker Austin Brown returned a fumble 62 yards for a touchdown with 56 seconds remaining to give the University of Maine a 28-21 Colonial Athletic Association win over Delaware on Saturday in Newark, Delaware.
Patrick Leonard had missed a potential go-ahead 35-yard field goal with 2:05 left, and Delaware promptly marched to the UMaine 40-yard line.
But Darius Greene forced a Wes Hills fumble, and Brown scooped it up and returned it for the touchdown.
“I saw the ball get stripped, so I picked it up and tried to do what I could with it,” said Brown. “My teammates did a great job blocking downfield. I just did what we’re coached to do every day, and I was fortunate to make a big play.”
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“Our Black Hole defense is known for making big plays,” said UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak. “I asked our kids how many scoop and score drills they’ve done in their lifetime? It pays off.”
He was understandably excited about the win.
“I love this team, man,” said Harasymiak. “We knew we were in for a hard game against a very well-coached and talented team.
“You saw who we were today. We never stopped fighting. I was proud of the way we played and the way we executed down the stretch,” he added.
UMaine improved to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the CAA, and Delaware fell to 2-3 and 0-2.
Delaware had taken a 14-13 lead into the intermission, but UMaine took a 21-14 lead when Dan Collins threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jaleel Reed with 5:48 left in the game. Reed also caught a deflected two-point conversion pass.
Two 17-yard passes from Collins to Micah Wright in critical third-down situations keyed the drive.
But it took Delaware just 47 seconds to tie it as Hills ran 61 yards for the touchdown.
Collins threw for a career-high 307 yards. He completed 21 of 33 passes. Wright caught eight passes for 98 yards, and Redd hauled in five more for 60.
“We really executed in the passing game today,” said Collins. “We finally put together a full game.”
Zaire Williams was UMaine’s leading rusher with 47 yards on nine carries.
Hills torched the UMaine defense for 242 yards on 24 rushes.
But the Black Bears limited Joe Walker to just 74 passing yards on six completions in 16 attempts.
Delaware used a six-play, 70-yard drive to erase a 13-7 lead with 42 seconds left as Hill finished it off by sprinting 17 yards for a touchdown.
Frank Raggo’s extra point snapped the tie.
Delaware had opened the scoring in the first quarter when Jalen Randolph finished off a six-play, 68-yard drive by busting into the end zone from a yard out.
But Collins answered in the second period when he threw a 37-yard pass to Wright and then hit Earnest Edwards on a 60-yard touchdown pass.
However, Leonard missed the extra point to leave the Black Bears trailing 7-6.
After a James DeMartini punt down to the 1-yard line, the Black Bears forced the Blue Hens to punt and wound up with the ball at the Delaware-40.
A 38-yard screen pass from Collins to Josh Mack set up a 1-yard touchdown pass from Collins to wide open tight end Michael Supp, who made his first career reception.
It was the first reception by a Black Bear tight end this season.
But the Blue Hens rode the running of Hills to the go-ahead score.
Hills rushed for 116 yards on 12 carries over the first 30 minutes.
Delaware had 168 yards of total offense in the half and it all came on the ground.
Walker completed one pass, but it went for no yards. He ran three times for 26 yards.
Collins completed 11-of-18 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
The Black Bear receivers also dropped several passes on the wet afternoon.
UMaine rushed for only 22 yards on 11 carries.
Micah Wright caught five passes for 59 yards, and Earnest Edwards and Jaleel Reed each had two catches for 62 and 13 yards, respectively.
UMaine was without leading tackler Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga, who was sidelined by an upper body injury.
Jason Matovu had a team-high eight tackles, and Darrius Hart, Greene, Connor Walsh and Uchen Egwunonwu were in on six apiece.
Charles Bell was involved in a game-high 13 tackles for Delaware. Troy Reeder had seven, and Bilal Nichols had a game-high two sacks among his six tackles.
UMaine will host Albany (4-1, 1-1 CAA) for Homecoming at noon Saturday.
No. 16 Albany is coming off a 36-30 triple-overtime loss to No. 6 Richmond.