ORONO — They refuse to go away.

The University of Maine football team kept its playoff hopes alive Saturday afternoon, rallying for a 34-30 victory over Rhode Island at Alfond Stadium.

Freshman Joe Fagnano threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Earnest Edwards with 34 seconds remaining as Maine rallied from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit.

“You’ve just got to keep going,” said Maine Coach Nick Charlton, when asked what his message was when the Black Bears trailed 27-13 with under 10 minutes remaining. “You know, we’re 2-5, we just lost to Liberty, we got a bunch of guys out … You’ve got to keep going. You can’t complain about those things.

“Whatever it is. You’ve got to build a culture that is resilient and guys find a way to win. We’ve been learning to do that.”

The win was Maine’s fourth in a row and lifted the Black Bears to 6-5 overall, 4-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association. It also keeps Maine’s Football Championship Subdivision playoff hopes alive. Maine must now win at New Hampshire, a 24-17 loser at Albany, next Saturday to have a chance at the postseason.

Rhode Island, which has lost 13 in a row to Maine, dropped to 2-9, 0-7.

The Black Bears received a standout performance from senior wide receiver Earnest Edwards, who gained 259 all-purpose yards. He led Maine with 73 rushing yards and had 58 receiving yards while gaining 100 yards in kickoff returns and 28 in punt returns.

“He’s just a great playmaker,” said Charlton. “And I thought he had a tremendous will to win this game.”

In addition, Edwards made the tackle on the game’s final Hail Mary pass to stop Rhode Island’s Ahmere Dorsey at  the Maine 18.

“Give all the respect I’ve got to him,” said Rhode Island defensive end Andre Bibeault, who had a fumble recovery. “He’s a great player.”

The Rams controlled the game for three quarters, their offensive line opening big holes for Naim Jones (career-high 167 rushing yards, two touchdowns), their defensive line shutting down anything Maine tried to do (167 total yards of offense for the Black Bears through three quarters).

But then came the fourth quarter. Trailing 27-13 with 9:52 remaining after a 38-yard field goal by C.J. Carrick, the Black Bears stormed back.

A 12-yard touchdown run by Emmanuel Reed with 8:24 left brought Maine back to within 27-20 with a four-play drive that lasted only 1:21. Then after Carrick missed a 45-yard attempt (his second miss of the game), Joe Fitzpatrick scored on a 3-yard run – set up by a 44-yard run by Edwards – and Kenny Doak’s PAT kick tied it at 27 with 3:16 left.

Carrick kicked a 29-yard field goal with 1:49 remaining to give the Rams a 30-27 lead. The Rams then dropped a pooch kick at the 20 on the kickoff, the ball bumbling around before Maine’s Mike Laverriere fell on it at the 19.

“I thought we had the perfect kick at the end, two guys had a chance to recover it and missed it,” said Rhode Island Coach Jim Fleming. “Then we broke down and got beat.”

Indeed, on first down Fagnano, who was 6 for 7 for 110 yards in the fourth quarter, hit Devin Young swinging out of the backfield on the left sideline for a 44-yard completion to the Rams 37.

After a 1-yard sack, Fagnano threw 12 yards to Fitzpatrick and 15 to Jacob Hennie, playing because senior Jaquan Blair was suspended for the game (for a violation of team rules) and junior Andre Miller is injured. Hennie had five catches for 52 yards.

Then on first down from the 11, he found Edwards in the left corner of the end zone for the winning score.

Fagnano, who was 20 of 29 for 216 yards and two touchdowns, wasn’t fazed at having to drive 81 yards in the final minute to keep Maine’s playoff hopes alive.

“We practice that every week,” he said. “So just go out there and execute the plays. I know we can do it. And we eventually did.”

 

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