ORONO — The University of Maine lost its season-opening football game to Delaware, 34-24, but one very involved observer sees good things ahead for the Black Bears.

Danny Rocco, the head coach of the fifth-ranked Blue Hens, is one of the more open and candid coaches in the Colonial Athletic Association. So what he said at the end of his postgame press conference Thursday night should resonate with Maine coaches, players and fans.

“This is a well-coached football team, it’s a talented football team, it’s a prideful program,” he said of the Black Bears. “There’s no doubt about that. And they’re going to win a bunch of football games this year. I really believe that.”

The disappointment of the loss aside, there were many things to like from Maine’s performance against Delaware.

First and foremost was the Black Bears’ ability to take a 24-17 halftime lead after trailing 17-0. Remember, Maine lost to Delaware 37-0 in the opener of the 2021 spring season. And this fall’s opener started on the same trajectory. It would have been easy to roll over.

Then there was the defense. Yes, Delaware scored 34 points, but two touchdowns came on explosive plays: a 55-yard pass to Gene Coleman (five catches, 120 yards) and a 66-yard touchdown to Thyrick Pitts (five catches, 116 yards).

Maine’s defensive front seven harassed Delaware quarterback Nolan Henderson with a ferocious rush. While the Black Bears officially had just one sack, Henderson completed only 14 of 29 passes and spent much the game running away from rushers.

Maine also held Delaware to just 3.2 yards per rush and 137 rushing yards overall. That was a big improvement from the spring, when opponents averaged 5.3 yards a rush and 212.2 rushing yards overall.

But, as Maine Coach Nick Charlton said, the Black Bears have to be even better to beat a team as good as Delaware.

Penalties were a factor on both sides of the ball. The Black Bears had nine penalties for 73 yards, Delaware just one for 8 – and that was on Maine’s first offensive play of the game.

And while Delaware did not turn the ball over, Maine did three times. Quarterback Joe Fagnano threw two interceptions, though the second one was a deflection off a Maine receiver’s fingers. And the Black Bears lost a game-changing fumble at the end of the third quarter when wide receiver Devin Young fought to get into the end zone for a potential go-ahead touchdown but fumbled the ball out of the end zone, leading to a touchback for Delaware.

After watching the game film, Charlton’s opinion hadn’t changed much on Friday.

“Unfortunately we didn’t execute in the second half, particularly in the second part of the third heading into fourth,” he said Friday afternoon. “When you’re playing a good football team that has great players, you’ve got to execute in those moments.”

The mistakes, he continued, are “fixable and correctable. We’ve got to use this as a learning experience. We have a certain level of expectations and in some cases the film is going to be difficult to watch. We left a bunch of plays out there. But at the same time, we’ve got to understand the context. And that is, we can compete with anybody.”

For a span of 11:23 in the second quarter, the Black Bears looked like the best team on the newly surfaced field at Alfond Stadium. They stormed back from 17 down to lead 24-17 at the half, with their defense mauling the Blue Hens and their offense in rhythm and racing.

The Black Bears just couldn’t maintain their momentum in the second half. And it was the usual assortment of miscues that stopped Maine: penalties and turnovers.

A 5-yard illegal shift penalty wiped out a third-down pass to Michael Monios that would have led to a first down. Instead, Fagnano’s third-and-9 pass fell incomplete and Maine had to punt.

“Perfect example,” said Charlton. “That is literal human error – two guys literally just getting set. It’s about making sure you’re (set), Joe making sure we’re good, and moving the football and going down to score. Those are drives we’ve got to take advantage of.”

Moments later, a pass interference penalty on Maine’s Richard Carr, who played a strong game, helped set up the tying touchdown.

Then came the fumble by Young, who was desperately trying to get into the end zone with Maine trailing 27-24 on what would be the last play of the third quarter.

“Devin was obviously trying to make a play and it’s something we’ve coached pretty hard, red zone execution and taking care of the football, when to fight for extra yards,” said Charlton. “Unfortunately, it was an error and a costly one. But there were plenty of things other than that one play we’d like to have back.

“We have confidence in Devin. I’m sure he’ll respond. … It was a mistake. I made mistakes. That’s part of growth and learning.”

The Black Bears have no time to wallow in disappointment. Next Saturday, they play at James Madison, the second-ranked team in the nation among Football Championship Subdivision teams.

“We’ve got plenty to clean up,” said Charlton. “We’re going to work at it and we’re going to fight.”

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