The Husson University football team will close out its 2021 regular season Saturday at five-time defending Commonwealth Coast Conference champion Western New England in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The Eagles hope it won’t be their last game of the fall.
“The guys are confident and optimistic and ready to go 1-0 this week,” Husson coach Nat Clark said. “That’s all we’re talking about, but the guys obviously know the scenarios. If we win we believe we’ll have some sort of postseason whether it be the NCAA playoffs or a New England bowl game.”
Husson enters the 1 p.m. contest at 7-2 overall and in a three-way tie for the conference lead with WNEU (6-3) and Endicott College of Beverly, Massachusetts (7-2). All are 4-1 within the CCC.
Endicott has defeated both Husson and WNE, meaning if the Gulls end up tied with the Husson-WNE winner for first place they will earn the CCC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs via tiebreaker.
For the Husson-Western New England winner to earn the automatic bid, it would need Endicott to lose its game Saturday at Nichols College (2-7, 0-5 CCC).
“We’re setting our sights on winning [our] game and if there’s some great fortune that Nichols can beat Endicott and we win the league we’d be very happy,” Clark said. “We just want to play in some postseason. That’s the expectation around here, to play in the postseason, so that’s what we’re shooting for.”
There may be other opportunities for the Eagles to play beyond this weekend even if they are unable to secure the CCC’s automatic bid.
While four New England conferences (CCC, Eastern Collegiate Football Conference, Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference and the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference) will send teams to the NCAAs via automatic berths, two Division III New England bowl games featuring the four top non-NCAA qualifiers from the region are scheduled for Nov. 20 at a location to be determined.
The Eagles enter Saturday’s game well-positioned to be considered for a bowl appearance.
Husson is a top-five team in two different New England Division III weekly polls. The latest Noontime Sports poll has the Eagles rated third in the region while the New England Division III coaches’ poll has them ranked fifth.
Husson also has its strength of schedule working in its favor, as it will have played six of the other top-10 teams in New England in non-conference foes UMass Dartmouth, Plymouth State and Springfield College as well as WNE, Endicott and Salve Regina from the CCC.
The Eagles are 3-2 in those games, including last week’s 24-10 Senior Day victory over Salve Regina at the Winkin Complex in Bangor that knocked the Seahawks out of a share of the conference lead. Salve Regina (8-2 overall, 4-2 CCC) has a bye this week.
A regional bowl appearance would be the third in program history for Husson. The Eagles fell to St. John Fisher 17-7 in the 2008 ECAC Northeast Bowl held on the Husson campus, then were edged by Salve Regina 42-39 in the 2015 ECAC Clayton Chapman Bowl at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Connecticut.
Husson is 0-4 against Western New England in a series that began in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament when the host Golden Bears scored a 44-27 victory over the Eagles.
Husson features the CCC’s top passing attack with sophomore quarterback Nic Visser throwing for a league-best 2,439 yards with 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Senior wide receivers Tyler Halls of Lisbon (57 catches, 949 yards) and Jon Bell of Skowhegan (44-653) rank 1-2 in receiving yards.
Senior Garrett Poussard of Lewiston ranks second among conference rushers with 617 yards and six touchdowns.
The Eagles also have two of the league’s top three tacklers in junior linebacker Tucker Buzzell of Lovell, first with 77 stops, and senior linebacker Kaleb Caron of West Gardiner, third with 72.
Senior defensive tackle Frank Curran of Portland also is among the CCC leaders with 4.5 sacks, and is the reigning conference defensive player of the week after contributing 10 tackles — including the 200th of his career — along with a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against Salve Regina.
WNE is 3-0 at home this fall with wins over Springfield, Salve Regina and Nichols by a combined score of 114-16.
“There are so many things on the line so I don’t feel like we have to do a lot of motivating this week other than to have a great practice plan and prepping and getting down there and playing a great football team,” Clark said.
“We know the challenge, and I just believe our kids are going to rise to it.”