ORONO — Earlier in the week, University of Maine football Coach Jordan Stevens pointed to two keys to success in Saturday’s game against Villanova. The Black Bears needed to limit big plays by the Wildcats offense, and needed to get out to a fast start.

In front of 7,168 fans at Alfond Stadium, the Black Bears accomplished neither. Villanova quarterback Connor Watkins and wide receiver Jaaron Hayek made sure of that. Watkins threw four touchdown passes, all to Hayek, and the Wildcats never trailed in a 45-20 win.

“We really wanted to get on top of them early, because we knew how explosive they were on offense. … We didn’t do that,” Stevens said. “Overall, we’re not complementing each other so we can be effective early in games right now.”

Villanova, ranked 14th and 15th in the two national FCS polls, was the preseason favorite in the Colonial Athletic Association. Saturday’s game marked the first conference game for Maine, which dropped to 0-4 overall. Villanova improved to 3-2, 1-1 in the CAA.

“Our guys were hungry to get back on the field and put on a better performance than maybe we did a week ago (a 49-42 loss to Monmouth),” said Villanova Coach Mark Ferrante.

The Wildcats scored on five of six first-half possessions, and the only time Villanova did not score was when they took a knee to end the first half. The scoring started when Matthew Mercurio made a 39-yard field goal to cap the Wildcats’ first drive. After forcing a Maine punt, Jalen Jackson’s 5-yard touchdown run gave Villanova a 10-0 lead with 5:45 left in the first quarter.


After that, the Watkins and Hayek show started. With 7:58 left in the second quarter, Hayek’s 4-yard touchdown catch from Watkins pushed the Wildcats lead to 17-7. Just over three minutes later, Watkins found Hayek for an 83-yard touchdown pass and a 24-7 lead. With 1:02 left in the half, Hayek’s 18-yard touchdown catch from Watkins capped a quick strike, five-play, 71-yard drive that took just one minute to push the lead at the half to 31-14.

The final Watkins-to-Hayek touchdown connection came on a 42-yard pass early in the third quarter, pushing Villanova’s lead to 38-14.

Watkins completed his first 13 passes, with his first incompletion coming with 4:23 left in the third quarter. He finished 13 for 16 for 255 yards. Hayek finished the game with five catches for 159 yards.

“We joke about this all the time, we’ve been roommates for four years now,” Watkins said. “We just kind of have that chemistry off the field, too.”

Villanova gained 466 yards of total offense, and averaged just over eight yards per play. Maine had 309 total yards.

“We just weren’t continuing to stop them on their routine plays,” said Maine defensive end Xavier Mitchell, who led the Black Bears with nine tackles.


The Wildcats had 15 plays that went for 10 or more yards, 11 of those in the first half. While Watkins and Hayek dominated through the air, the quarterback’s biggest play arguably came with his feet. Facing third-and-12 early in the second quarter after Maine cut the lead to 10-7, Watkins broke free from a sack, ran, and then juked a Maine defender to get 15 yards and a first down. Nine plays later, Watkins connected with Hayek on their first touchdown pass.

“Obviously on third down, your objective is to get the first down by any means necessary,” Watkins said. “I saw the guy coming up the middle. Luckily our guys held on to the linebackers coming up the field well enough that I could sneak out.”

While Maine did have some bright spots offensively, the Black Bears couldn’t keep pace with the Wildcats. Montigo Moss’ one-handed touchdown catch on a 9-yard pass from Joe Fagnano late in the first quarter cut the Wildcats lead to 10-7, but Villanova answered with a 12-play, 65-yard scoring drive. After Zavier Scott caught a deflected Fagnano pass for a 30-yard touchdown with 2:10 left in the second quarter to cut Villanova’s lead to 24-14, the Wildcats answered with a quick scoring drive.

Maine went to a trick play for its third touchdown, on the first play on the fourth quarter. Running back Elijah Barnwell took a pitch from Fagnano, ran to his right, and tossed a 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Shawn Bowman.

Jalen Goodman’s 23-yard interception return for a touchdown on his first career pick capped the scoring for the Wildcats with 8:38 to play.

Fagnano finished 24 for 38 for 192 yards passing and an interception. After missing the last two games with an injury, Bowman led Maine receivers with seven catches for 55 yards. Kobay White had five catches for 57 yards for the Black Bears.

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