ORONO — The University of Maine’s defense made one last stand Saturday afternoon and the Black Bears claimed the Colonial Athletic Association championship.

Sterling Sheffield hit Elon quarterback Daniel Thompson as he was throwing the ball, leading to an incompletion on fourth down from the Maine 42, and Maine held on to defeat the Phoenix 27-26 at Alfond Stadium.

The victory lifted the Black Bears to 8-3 overall and 7-1 in the CAA, clinching the league’s regular-season title for the first time since 2013. Maine was picked to finish eighth in the league’s preseason poll.

Elon, possibly fighting for its playoff life, finished 6-4 overall, 4-3 in the CAA.

The Black Bears will find out where they land in the FCS playoffs on Sunday during the NCAA selection show, which starts at 12:30 p.m.

Maine lost starting quarterback Chris Ferguson to an injury in the second quarter and the offense struggled without him.

But Earnest Edwards returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, of 95 and 93 yards, and Kenny Doak kicked two field goals.

Elon rallied forom 27-13 down in the third quarter to pull within a point on Skylar Davis’ fourth field goal of the game with 4:33 left. The Phoenix, behind Thompson (the third-string quarterback) got one last chance, taking over with 2:09 remaining at its 39. Elon moved to Maine’s 42, but the game ended with two incompletions, the second caused by Sheffield’s rush and hit.

Maine took a 24-13 lead with 10:13 left in the third quarter when Edwards returned his second kick-off for a touchdown, this one a 93-yarder right up the middle. Then Doak, set up by a blocked punt by Daniel Rymer, kicked a 19-yard field goal to make it 27-13.

But the Phoenix came back with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Thompson to Cole Taylor with 1:51 left in the third.

Connor Christiansen intercepted Isaiah Robinson on the first play of the fourth quarter, giving the Phoenix the ball at their 7. That led to a 32-yard field goal by Skylar Davis with 10:23 left and a 27-23 Maine lead.

Davis would kick a 46-yard field goal, tying his career-high, with 4:33 left to pull the Phoenix within 27-26.

It was 14-10 at the end of a tough first half. Turnovers were a factor.

Maine’s first touchdown, a 1-yard run by Drew Belcher with 14:21 left in the second quarter, was set up when Jamehl Wiley recovered an Elon fumble – just the Phoenix’ seventh turnover all season – at the Maine 15.

Elon’s 10 points were set up by interceptions. The first, by Connor Christiansen off Ferguson, set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Brelynd Cyphers that tied the game; the second, by Greg Liggs off Isaiah Robinson, set up a 40-yard field goal by Skylar Davis with three seconds remaining in the first half.

Maine’s other touchdown – the one that broke a 7-7 tie – was a 95-yard kick-off return by Edwards. He took the ball at the 5, waited for a hole to open then scooted down the right sideline.

Ferguson, Maine’s starting quarterback, was replaced by Robinson with 2:35 remaining in the first half. He had injured his right shoulder last week and appeared to hurt it again on the interception he threw.

Maine celebrates with the Colonial Athletic Association trophy after its victory over Elon on Saturday (Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)

Maine’s Deshawn Stevens moves in to tackle Elon’s Joseph Colaio-Coppola on Saturday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald

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