EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — The University of Maine came to Rentschler Field looking for respect Thursday night. The Black Bears got it, no doubt, but left wishing for more.

The University of Connecticut turned back Maine 24-21 in an opening-night thriller when Bobby Puyol kicked a 37-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining to complete a fourth-quarter rally.

The underdog Black Bears, who play in the lower level of Division I football (Football Championship Subdivision, while UConn plays in the Football Bowl Subdivision), led by seven points with just under 10 minutes left.

Speaking of his players, Maine Coach Joe Harasymiak said, “They showed just about everything they had out there tonight.”

This was Harasymiak’s debut as Maine’s head coach, the first person other than Jack Cosgrove to lead the Black Bears onto the field in 23 years. He knew his players would push the Huskies to the end.

“Obviously you don’t like losing,” he said. “We don’t schedule these games to collect a paycheck, we schedule them to win. I think that was our mindset coming in … This is the first step, the first bullet point on our resume. I think it’s a pretty good one.

“We’ll look at the film and be upset with ourselves over some things, like always. But I think, with us, we’re trying to earn respect and we took a step in that direction today.”

Maine, 2-14 against FBS teams, missed two field goals, the second a 47-yard attempt by Patrick Leonard that was blocked by Mikal Myers with 1:48 left.

The Huskies then took over at their 30 and casually moved down for the winning points. Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs got the drive going with a couple scrambles – he led the Huskies with 114 rushing yards, most on scrambles as he avoided Maine’s rush – and then made a couple big completions, the last an 18-yarder to Brian Lemelle to Maine’s 19.

Two plays later, Puyol kicked the winning field goal.

“It’s always disappointing when you lose,” said cornerback Najee Goode, who gave Maine its final lead with a spectacular play in the fourth quarter. “One thing I like is that we came together as a team today. We gave it our all.”

It was 14-14 early in the fourth quarter when Goode made his play. The Huskies had a first down at Maine’s 14 when Goode blitzed from the left – Shirreffs’ blind side. He hit him squarely in the back and Shirreffs fumbled. The ball bounced right up to Goode, who took it 74 yards for the touchdown. Leonard’s PAT kick made it 21-14 with 9:56 left.

The Huskies came back to tie it on a 2-yard run by Arkeel Newsome with 6:36 remaining. Then Maine took over.

“I told them the goal was to grind it out and kick a field goal to win it,” said Harasymiak.

Quarterback Dan Collins (19 of 33, 269 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) made a couple huge completions to Jaleel Reed (eight catches, 169 yards and a spectacular 40-yard touchdown catch) to keep the drive going.

Maine had a first down at the 30 but then stalled.

A first-down run by Josh Mack went for no gain. Collins just missed Marquise Adams inside the 10. Then he missed Jared Osumah.

“I just missed some throws,” said Collins.

That brought in Leonard, who had missed a 37-yarder earlier. This time his kick was tipped by Myers to end that threat.”

“We knew that we were the underdog,” said Reed, “but one thing about Maine is that we’re tough. We’re always going to fight back.”

“We just didn’t finish,” said Collins. “That’s something we talk about, preach about, all the time.”

Maine led 7-0 after one quarter on a 20-yard pass from Collins to Mack. The Huskies tied it on a 1-yard run by Ron Johnson in the second quarter, then took the lead on a 21-yard run by Johnson in the third.

Maine immediately responded and Collins hit Reed for a 40-yard touchdown, a perfectly thrown ball to Reed down the right seam.

“We’ve just got to keep working,” said Collins. “We’ve got a big game coming up next week. We’ll see the film, figure out our mistakes, correct them, go back to work and try to beat Toledo.”

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