One of the beauties of a rivalry game is it can salvage a season.
That is the case for the University of Maine’s football team, which will conclude a disappointing season by hosting archrival New Hampshire on Saturday at noon at Morse Field in Alfond Stadium in Orono.
UNH is 7-3 and 6-1 and has won four of its last five games. The Wildcats are tied with William and Mary and Richmond for first place in the Colonial Athletic Association. William and Mary and Richmond play each other on Saturday.
UNH would certainly sew up one of 24 Football Championship Subdivision playoff berths with a win but a loss creates some uncertainty for its postseason aspirations.
Spoiling UNH’s standings is one final opportunity for the UMaine football team to atone for its 2-8 season, including a 2-5 record in the CAA. Saturday’s 23-21 loss at Albany was UMaine’s fourth in a row, with three of those four losses being by four points or less.
This will be the 110th meeting between UMaine and New Hampshire, with New Hampshire holding a 56-45-8 advantage.
UMaine won 33-20 in last year’s game in Durham, New Hampshire. The winner earns the Brice-Cowell Musket for a year.
“We definitely want to go out on a high note for this season,” said UMaine graduate student and nose tackle Raffaele Salamone from Portland. “We want to ruin their season just like they did to us in 2019. It would be nice to get some revenge.”
UNH beat UMaine 28-10 in 2019 and wound up 6-6 overall and 4-4 in the conference.
“We hate each other,” Salamone added. “You feel the hate on the field. It’s always a good battle, no matter how each team was doing.”
If UMaine wins, it will be its first two-game win streak in the rivalry series since 2001 and 2002.
A loss would make this the first Black Bear team to lose nine games in a season since Jack Bicknell’s 1979 team went 2-9.
“This season hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to. To beat our rivals, earn the musket and knock them out of the playoffs would be a great goal accomplishment for the season,” said graduate student-center Mike Gerace.
Having the game at the end of the season is the best place to have it because it carries playoff or championship implications with it, first-year head coach Jordan Stevens said.
“It doesn’t matter what the records are. You throw that out,” said UNH first-year head coach Ricky Santos. “It’s going to be a battle, it’s going to be contested, it’s going to be chippy. There’s no love lost here. We know that.”
Santos downplayed UMaine’s struggles, adding that the team was “a couple of touchdowns away” from being in the playoff picture as well since five games were decided by 10 points or less.
“Jordan is a tremendous coach,” Santos said. “He gets his guys fired up.”
UMaine suffered a big blow late in the loss to Albany as standout sophomore cornerback Kahzir “Buggs” Brown was lost for the season with a lower body injury.
He is the team’s third-leading tackler with 59 and leads the team in pass breakups with nine and is tied in interceptions with two.
He had six tackles, four pass breakups and he blocked a field goal against Albany.
Senior Benito Speight is likely to replace him.
Stevens called UNH a “great team” with an outstanding quarterback in Max Brosmer who is “efficient and has a great arm.”
He added that the Wildcats have a “sound and tough defense” and dynamic special teams.
“This game means a lot to everyone who has gone here before us and are here now,” said senior quarterback Joe Fagnano.
“We have to do everything we can to get a win to end our season.”