With four wins in their last five games and coming off their fourth-ever win over a Football Bowl Subdivision team, the University of Maine’s Black Bears now set their sights on Saturday’s season-ending rivalry game against the University of New Hampshire Wildcats in Durham, New Hampshire.
Football Championship Subdivision schools UMaine and UNH are on different paths coming into the 1 p.m. contest at Wildcat Stadium for the Brice-Cowell Musket.
UMaine rallied from a 10-0 deficit on Saturday to top UMass 35-10 in Amherst, Massachusetts. The team’s 4-1 stretch has improved its overall record to 5-5. The Black Bears are 3-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association. UNH (3-7, 2-5) has lost seven in a row.
UMaine would finish with a winning overall record if it could upend UNH but head coach Nick Charlton said “there’s no conversation about our record. There is plenty of motivation for both teams.”
Rivalry games are usually unpredictable but that hasn’t been the case over the last 20 games in which UNH has won 16 times — including nine consecutive home wins against the Black Bears.
The two rivals didn’t play this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
UMaine’s last win over UNH in Durham was in 2001, a 57-24 triumph.
Charlton saw a lot of positives in Saturday’s win over UMass including the performance turned in by junior quarterback Joe Fagnano, who was playing in his first game since suffering a high ankle sprain in a 55-7 loss to James Madison on Sept. 11.
Fagnano completed 16-of-27 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns. He wasn’t intercepted or sacked. He directed the Black Bears to a 50 percent conversion rate on third down (6-for-12).
“Joe played well. He had a couple of physical mistakes and had one missed assignment near the end of the first half. But he certainly gives us a different element in the vertical passing game,” Charlton said. “Joe gets us in the right play, understands the operation and did a really good job making plays.”
The Black Bears were without All-CAA wide receiver Andre Miller for the second straight game but sophomore wide receiver Montigo Moss filled in nicely, catching two passes for 62 yards including a 58-yarder that jump started the sluggish offense and led to the first touchdown.
“He was definitely someone who stepped up for us. He has tremendous ball skills. It’s really impressive to watch him play the ball in the air. He has done a great job of that,” Charlton said. “He is bringing a lot to the table.”
Moss had three catches for 48 yards two weeks ago in a 22-17 loss to Stony Brook. He is the son of NFL Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss.
Charlton said the team expects Miller (hamstring) to be able to play on Saturday.
Charlton also said Freyburg freshman tight end Eli Mahan did a good job in place of the injured Daniel Rymer.
“He played the whole second half,” Charlton said.
A resurgent running game has been another key component in UMaine’s recent success.
Over the last five games, UMaine has rushed for 797 yards on 173 carries for an average of 4.6 yards per carry compared to 447 yards on 144 carries over the first five games which is an average of 3.1 yards.
Sophomore Freddie Brock has averaged 6.2 yards per carry over the last five games (67-for-417).
“He’s one of the best running backs in the league,” UNH coach Sean McDonnell said. “He has great vision and great feet. And their offensive line stays on their blocks. They have a dynamic offense. Everyone knows how good [wide receivers] Devin Young and Miller are.”
Redshirt junior running back Elijah Barnwell has also given the Black Bears a lift after coming off an injury as he has carried the ball 42 times for 211 yards over the past three games (5.2 ypc).
The defense has shown dramatic improvement over the past five games, holding teams to 17.6 points per game after allowing 37.8 ppg in the previous five.
Charlton said the defense has done an excellent job technically and fundamentally.
“They run to the football and have had a very limited number of missed tackles which is a big stat for us,” Charlton said.
Transfer graduate student linebacker Ray Miller’s 16 tackles led the UMaine defense on Saturday as it held the Minutemen to 297 total yards and a 6-for-19 conversion rate on third and fourth down. Miller now has a team-high 92 tackles on the season.
“Miller is a great player. I really like his demeanor and the way he plays the game. Otero is another good player,” said McDonnell, referring to senior linebacker Adrian Otero (57 tackles).