ORONO — For the Maine defense, the turnovers were a long time coming. And they may be coming just in time.

The Black Bears had forced only two turnovers in their first three games entering Saturday’s Colonial Athletic Association opener at Towson. Three takeaways later, Maine was jetting away with a 27-24 victory and a newfound swagger that it will carry into Saturday’s home game against No. 6 Villanova.

“Getting to the ball as a group and just being violent is going to produce turnovers, and that’s our mindset every game,” said defensive end Trevor Bates, who forced one fumble and recovered another at Towson.

“This past game, it started clicking. We put more pressure on the quarterback and came up with big plays. We’re getting better every game.”

Maine (2-2, 1-0 CAA) wasn’t perfect against Towson. The Black Bears surrendered 254 yards on the ground and started to wear down in the third quarter, middle linebacker Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga said. The normally solid sophomore was guilty of some uncharacteristic missed tackles himself in the first three quarters.

But he responded with the biggest defensive play of the game.

Leading 24-20, Towson drove to the Maine 7-yard line with 8:18 remaining. Quarterback Connor Frazier retreated to pass and Mulumba Tshimanga blitzed up the middle and forced Frazier to lose his balance. The ball popped free, Bates scooped it up and ran 33 yards to the Maine 48.

“I wasn’t as sharp, I felt like. I was getting frustrated a little bit,” Mulumba Tshimanga said. “But I just kept playing and when I had a chance to make a play, I just made it.

“I’m blitzing more than last year. I love it.”

Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove said the victory, secured in the final minute on a 37-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-7, showed an inexperienced team how important perseverance is in the CAA, especially on the road.

“I don’t know that they fully got that. You talk about winning CAA games in the fourth quarter, and we don’t have enough of those guys that have really lived that on this team,” Cosgrove said. “They lived it in their first CAA game. That builds credibility.”

The challenge grows stiffer this week. Villanova (3-1, 1-0) is averaging 41.5 points per game behind standout quarterback John Robertson. He has rushed for 240 yards, but more impressively has passed for 982 yards and 12 touchdowns. Throwing the football is a new strength for the junior, who impressed Cosgrove last season in a 37-35 Maine win at Villanova.

“He’s a wiggly runner. He’s not a straight-line speed guy, but he makes people miss. He has uncanny running instincts,” Cosgrove said. “I became a big fan of his last year in our game down there. He amazed me, just how many guys he made on our team miss tackles. He almost single-handedly beat us.”

That puts a Maine defense that wants to pressure the quarterback in a quandary. Be too aggressive, and Robertson will slip to the outside and make you pay.

“The biggest thing is keeping him in the pocket and trying to compress his space and getting him under pressure so he doesn’t make the best throws,” Bates said. “Whenever there’s a read option, forcing him to give the ball to the running back and making them beat us with other players.”

Robertson is playing with a broken left, non-throwing hand. His coaches are trying to minimize the pounding he takes by using a quartet of running backs. He hasn’t thrown an interception yet, but the Wildcats have lost six fumbles.

Maine will be looking to increase that total.

“Sometimes turnovers come and sometimes they don’t,” Cosgrove said. “But when they do come, they often come in droves. That’s what we’re hoping for now.”

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