ORONO — The Maine football team made a switch at quarterback Saturday, and got a workhorse runner to boot.

Drew Belcher came on in the second series of the game and got the tough yards the Black Bears needed in a 23-10 victory over Stony Brook before an announced crowd of 4,144 at Alfond Stadium.

Replacing a shaky Dan Collins at quarterback, Belcher completed 11 of 16 passes for 109 yards. He also carried 25 times for 65 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown run that exemplified his impact on the game. Belcher met a Stony Brook defender head-on near the goal line but bulled through him to tie the score 10-10 midway through the third quarter.

“Once I saw that everything was covered up, I just tried to tuck it down and get into the end zone. I just tried to do everything I could to get in, because I knew we needed points,” Belcher said.

“I’m a bigger kid (6-foot-3, 230 pounds). I can take a little more hits, so I don’t mind putting my shoulder down and getting a couple extra yards.”

Yards and points were at a premium, as expected. Stony Brook (2-4, 1-4 Colonial Athletic Association) thrives on a punishing defense and an effective ground game.

Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove said that style of contest was perfectly suited to Belcher.

Collins, a junior, started for the seventh consecutive game. It was an inauspicious beginning. His first pass, from his 5-yard line, went directly to a surprised Stony Brook safety Naim Cheeseboro, who dropped the sure touchdown. His second pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage and Maine quickly punted.

Belcher, a sophomore, took over on the second series and led the Black Bears (3-4, 3-1) on a 66-yard drive that ended with Sean Decloux’s 43-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.

Collins returned one more time, in the second quarter, only to be stripped of the football by Seawolves linebacker Julian Quintin, who recovered the fumble at the Maine 28 and set up his team’s only touchdown drive of the game. That provided Stony Brook with a 10-3 halftime lead. Belcher took every snap thereafter.

“I almost thought the first pass of the game that almost went for a touchdown sealed his fate,” Cosgrove said when asked if the fumble is what kept Collins on the sideline. “You can’t turn the ball over in a game like this and you really can’t take risks with the ball. I just thought we did the right thing for our football team here today.”

Belcher played mistake-free football. It wasn’t flashy and his statistics weren’t gaudy, but his leadership was evident.

A tenacious Black Bears defense did the rest. Maine limited Stony Brook to 10 yards rushing on 26 carries. Passing the football is not the Seawolves’ forte, and the Black Bears’ defensive front feasted on quarterbacks Conor Bednarski and Joe Carbone, who were forced to pass 41 times. Bednarski was sacked four times. Stony Brook gained only 64 yards in the second half, when three turnovers sealed its fate.

On its opening drive of the half, Seawolves running back Donald Liotine had the football jarred loose by Maine linebacker John McCabe. Cabrinni Goncalves recovered it at the Stony Brook 31, setting up Belcher’s game-tying run.

After another Decloux field goal gave Maine a 13-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, Sterling Sheffield and Trevor Bates combined for the biggest play of the game. Sheffield, a freshman linebacker, blitzed Bednarski and knocked the football out of his grasp. It flew directly to Bates, who romped 34 yards for a touchdown that essentially sealed the win.

“I just did my job, tried to contain it, and really, gift from God, the ball just came down in my hands,” Bates said. “I just took off.”

The victory keeps Maine in the thick of the conference race, with a trip to Villanova next Saturday.

“I think it’s going to catapult us,” Bates said. “That’s definitely what we needed to put us in the right direction.”

Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MarkEmmertPPH


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