CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The best defense on the field Saturday didn’t belong to Maine. But the defensive difference was closer than the final score indicated.

Boston College finally broke loose in the fourth quarter against a game Black Bear defense to roll to a season-opening 24-3 victory before an announced crowd of 29,262 at Alumni Stadium. It was the sixth consecutive victory for Boston College over Maine, and this one came primarily because the Eagles subdued the visitors’ offense.

The three points allowed were the fewest by Boston College since a 34-3 defeat of Maine in 2012. Maine amassed just 91 yards — 54 came on the opening drive — and it was the first time the Eagles held an opponent under 100 yards since Buffalo garnered 92 in 2006.

“I have to keep telling ourselves that was the 11th-ranked defense in the country last year and they’re pretty good. They gave us a hard time,” Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said. “They turned the game around a little bit with the field position and finally they got the score just before the half.”

The Black Bears took the opening kickoff and picked up three quick first downs, the biggest plays being a Dan Collins 21-yard pass to tight end Jeremy Salmon and Collins’ 15-yard run. They ended up being Maine’s two longest gains of a long afternoon for the offense.

Collins, who won the starting job this week over Drew Belcher, looked confident and decisive early but had no rushing game to fall back on. Starting tailback Nigel Beckford was suspended for the game for violating the university’s student-athlete code of conduct.

That meant senior Cabrinni Goncalves got his first start at the position after starring on defense in his first three seasons at Maine.

Goncalves gained 29 yards on 10 carries, but the Black Bears were limited to 7 total yards rushing overall.

That allowed the Eagles to ratchet up the pressure on Collins, which they did, sacking him five times and forcing him into 12-of-29 passing for 84 yards and a fourth-quarter interception.

Maine got a 39-yard field goal from Sean Decloux out of that first drive. In the rest of the first half, the offensive production was minus-19 yards with three punts.

Boston College could find little traction against Maine’s defense, however. The Black Bears recorded 10 tackles for losses and kept putting the Eagles in long-yardage situations. In the first three quarters, Boston College gained only 45 yards on its 21 first-down plays.

The Eagles managed a touchdown with 26 seconds left in the half to take a 10-3 lead.

The third quarter was a stalemate, each team punting three times.

It unraveled in the fourth, when Boston College junior running back Tyler Rouse scored on rushes of 21 and 45 yards to ice the game as the Black Bears’ tackling suddenly became sloppy.

The Eagles converted 10 of 18 third- and fourth-down situations to keep the pressure on.

“We knew they were going to run the ball so we had to stop the run first. Sometimes, third down, it was lack of communication and the backs got out of the backfield,” said Maine safety Darrius Hart, who had four tackles.

“We should have tackled a little bit better, defeated a couple more blocks on the edge, but other than that I think we did a good job out there.”

Beckford is eligible to return for Maine’s next game, Sept. 19 at Tulane. The sophomore led the team in rushing a year ago with 471 yards. What dimension he’ll add to an offense that was stuck in place Saturday remains to be seen.

“Whether or not he would have found a way to find some yards for us, I don’t know that. Certainly there were times where we didn’t block anybody very well, so that doesn’t make anybody look very good,” Cosgrove said. “(Beckford) is a creative kid, maybe he would have (made a difference), but he wasn’t here, so we play with the next guy.”

Mark Emmert — 791-6424

[email protected]

Twitter: MarkEmmertPPH

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