ORONO – Andy Talley arrived Saturday at Alfond Stadium expecting to prove to the University of Maine and the rest of the Atlantic 10 Conference that his Villanova team was on the rise.
Instead, he and the Wildcats found out it is the Black Bears who are becoming a legitimate contender.
UMaine limited Villanova to 170 total yards, including minus-39 yards rushing, to backstop a convincing 20-7 Atlantic 10 victory in front of 6,658 fans on a bright fall day at Morse Field.
“After watching their defense for 60 minutes, I think probably we were overmatched,” Talley said. “I had a pretty good opinion of our offense and we just really struggled with their defensive football team. They really played extremely well.”
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s 23rd-ranked Bears (4-2) improved to 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 2002. It was their fourth straight win over Villanova (2-4, 1-2 A-10) and the sixth in their last seven A-10 contests overall.
“I’m excited, because I know we can play better than we did today,” Cosgrove said. “You go 3-0 in the conference to start the season and you’ve got people’s attention. We’re not going to sneak up on anybody.”
That said, the UMaine offense did kind of sneak up on the Wildcats.
On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Ron Whitcomb faked an inside handoff to tailback Arel Gordon – the Bears’ bread-and-butter run play – then dropped back and threw a long pass to speedy freshman wide receiver Ryan Callahan.
Callahan beat VU’s Rodney Badger down the middle of the field, caught the ball, and raced untouched to complete an 80-yard touchdown play.
“We haven’t been throwing down the field very much and we saw a defensive look on tape that they’ve been giving and, if the opportunity was going to present itself, we were going to take advantage of the situation,” Whitcomb said. “He looked pretty open and I know how fast he is, so I threw it out there.”
Whitcomb, who went into the game averaging only 88 yards through the air, had by far his most productive passing game of the season. He completed 19 of 29 throws for 209 yards and one TD and was not intercepted.
Callahan continued to emerge as a playmaker, catching seven passes for 130 yards and netting 58 yards on three rushing attempts, including a 49-yard TD scamper in the third quarter.
While the defense was smothering – paced by sophomore linebacker Andrew Downey (11 tackles, 1 sack), strong safety Daren Stone (7 tackles, 1 sack) and cornerback Lionel Nixon Jr. (7 tackles) – the offense carried play early.
UMaine controlled the ball for 20 minutes in the first half, including an 18-play, 75-yard march that consumed nine minutes, 20 seconds.
Freshman walk-on place-kicker Devin McNeill of Portland capped that possession with a 24-yard field goal and booted a career-long 36-yarder later in the second quarter to stake the Bears to a 13-0 halftime lead.
“What we need to work on is finishing those drives and getting touchdowns instead of field goals,” Whitcomb said after UMaine came up empty on two other threats.
The Bears struck again midway through the third quarter. Callahan took an option pitch from Whitcomb on the left side and had his shoe pulled off, but broke free to complete a 49-yard TD sprint at the 7:17 mark.
“I had a great time today, had fun,” Callahan said. “Someone took [the shoe] off, so I just had to keep going. The offensive line a great job of blocking, making holes.”
While Villanova neutralized Gordon (35 yards), the Bears netted 128 rushing yards on their way to 337 total.
The scrambling ability of Wildcats QB Marvin Burroughs (24-for-36, 209 yards) helped the visitors move the ball better in the second half. However, he was under constant pressure.
“We got a lot of pressure in his face early,” Stone said. “He got set back in the series – second-and-long, third-and-long – which made it much easier for us to sit back and play the ball.”
Villanova finally scored with an eight-play, 42-yard march in the fourth quarter. Burroughs scrambled 8 yards for a score on a fourth-and-goal play with 9:05 remaining.
“They’re tough,” Talley said. “I thought UMass’s defense might be the best in the league, but Maine was pretty convincing today.”
The Bears made the lead hold up.
“We had a chance to bury them in the second half and didn’t,” Cosgrove said. “We had a couple of penalties and some things that quite frankly, from my standpoint, are things we need to work on.”
UMaine plays host to Hofstra in Saturday’s 2 p.m. homecoming game.
BLACK BEARS 20, WILDCATS 7
Villanovan (2-4) 0 0 0 7??- 7
Maine (4-2) 7 6 7 0?- 20
M – Callahan 80 pass from Whitcomb (McNeill kick)
M – McNeill 24 field goal
M – McNeill 36 field goal
M – Callahan 49 run (McNeill kick)
V – Burroughs 8 run (Marcoux kick)
First downs ???12 ???16
Rushing att.-yds. 23-(minus 39) 35-128
Passing comp.-att. 24-36 19-29
Passing yards 209 ??209
Total Yards 170 337
Punts-avg. 6-28.7 6-35.3
Fumbles-lost ???2-1 ???2-1
Intercepted by 0 1
Penalties-yards ??4-45 ??6-57
Time of Possession ?28:32 ?31:28
Villanova: Dicken 4-9, A.Jones 1-4, May 1-1, Atkinson 1-(minus 1), Team 2-(minus 15), Burroughs 14-(minus 37). Maine: Callahan 3-58, Gordon 12-35, Whitcomb 17-30, Fluellen 1-7, Team 2-(minus 2).
Villanova: Burroughs 24-36-1-209. Maine: Whitcomb 19-29-0-209.
Villanova: May 10-61, Polite 5-80, Atkinson 2-22, Bradway 2-22, Smith 2-19, Sherry 2-11, Brannigan 1-(minus 6). Maine: Callahan 7-130, Pierre 6-65, Gordon 4-2, Fluellen 1-9, L.Williams 1-3.