UMass quarterback Andrew Ford’s status was questionable for Saturday’s game against Maine at Fenway Park. But Ford did not seem to be feeling the effects of a neck injury as he passed for 355 yards and four touchdowns in a 44-31 victory over the Black Bears before a crowd of 12,794.
“I think once I took that first hit, then it was back to football,” Ford said. “Once I stood up, I was able to take another hit. Last week was tough, I was frustrated I couldn’t help the guys.
“Just being able to come out and execute as early as we did kind of got me in the flow of the game. Once we started playing, it was just football again.”
Ford, injured in a 30-27 win over Appalachian State two weeks ago, missed UMass’ 34-23 loss to 18th-ranked Mississippi State last week. Against Maine, Ford came out throwing, and he was on target from the start, completing his first eight passes for 187 yards.
But the Minutemen (3-7) received a scare from the Black Bears (4-5), who twice erased big deficits to make it a game.
Ford skipped a week of practice, then the Minutemen lost backup quarterback Ross Comis to injury in the game against Mississippi State.
“I was concerned, because of the energy you have to really spend to compete with an SEC team on a trip,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said. “We had a lot of guys sick and missed practice.”
UMass started fast, Ford’s 33-yard pass to Jessie Britt opening the scoring with 13:29 to play in the opening quarter. Maine equalized as Earnest Edwards took the ensuing kickoff back 95 yards, his second career kickoff return for a touchdown.
Andy Isabella caught the first of three his three scoring passes, a 69-yarder on second-and-23 for a 14-7 UMass edge with 11:32 to go in the opening quarter.
Ford, who finished 21 for 39, cooled off, but his early passing success seemed to have knocked the Black Bears off balance as the Minutemen expanded the lead to 21-7 on Ford’s second TD pass to Isabella, a 12-yarder with 1:02 left in the opening quarter.
Logan Laurent’s 41-yard field goal gave UMass a 24-7 lead with 10:22 to go in the first half.
But the Black Bears weren’t done. Chris Ferguson scored on a 9-yard run off a broken play, then Connor Walsh sacked Ford for a safety as Maine pulled within 24-16 with 3:28 remaining in the half. On UMass’ first 11 pass plays of the second quarter, the Minutemen surrendered four sacks, threw four incompletions, and were charged with a holding penalty.
Maine tied it on its opening possession of the second half, after a 12-play, 80-yard drive, aided by four UMass penalties. Josh Mack scored on a 1-yard run, then Ferguson completed a 2-point conversion pass to Drew Belcher with 10:00 on the clock.
The Minutemen broke the deadlock on a Ford-to-Isabella 14-yard completion with 2:42 to play in the third, the drive aided by a pass interference call. Four plays later, UMass cornerback Lee Moses’s 70-yard interception return gave the Minutemen a 37-24 lead with 1:08 left in the third quarter.
Maine rallied on Mack’s 37-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 6 points with 6:46 remaining but got no closer.
“I mean, early, you thought this was going to be [they] blow our doors off here,” Maine coach Joe Harasymiak said. “You know, we’re talking 50-something to nothing with the way it started. But we were relentless the way we came back. We kept overcoming stuff but it was a little too much to overcome.”
Both teams were playing at Fenway for the first time.
“I’d rather come here than, maybe, Mississippi State,” Whipple said. “It’ll be more special tonight going back on the bus. [The players] won’t realize it until they get older and mature. We try to make sure they take a good look at where they’re at. These guys nowadays are on their iPhone, it’s what’s going to happen five minutes from now.’’
More photos from the UMass-Maine game at Fenway Park: