The University of Maine and University of New Hampshire football teams haven’t had the seasons they wanted.
So, Saturday’s season finale between the arch-rivals for the Brice Cowell Musket will give one team a slice of satisfaction and momentum to take into next season.
Game time is 1 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium in Durham, New Hampshire.
UMaine is looking to avoid a second straight 2-9 campaign, while UNH would like to finish with a winning record after being picked to finish second in the preseason Coastal Athletic Association coaches poll.
UNH is 5-5 overall and just 3-4 in the CAA, while UMaine is 2-8 and 1-6.
UMaine had last weekend off, while the Wildcats rallied from a 24-17 deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Monmouth 31-24 with freshman quarterback Matt Vezza throwing a game-winning 38-yard touchdown pass to Myles Thomason with 2:18 left.
Vezza replaced junior Max Brosmer, who leads the Football Championship Subdivision in passing yards (3,178) but got injured against Monmouth.
“It’s a trophy game and the records are irrelevant to this game,” said UMaine head coach Jordan Stevens during the weekly CAA media/coaches conference call. “It’s going to be a competitive, physical game that will go four quarters plus. It will come down to the last series.
“Whether it has playoff implications or not, it doesn’t change the motive for us,” said UNH coach Rick Santos. “This honors our alumni and all the guys who came before them.
“It means so much to them,” Santos added.
The two coaches played in the series for their respective teams and were also assistants at their alma maters.
“We are the two northernmost schools in the CAA and it has that feel to it with the alumni and families,” said Stevens. “There is a sense of pride winning the musket.”
“There is the proximity of the two schools and we overlap in our recruiting territories,” said Santos. “We are blue collar institutions that do things the right way and play hard.”
UNH won last year’s wild affair in overtime 42-41 in Orono.
Stevens said the bye week was beneficial. It was their first weekend off this season.
“We needed the bye week. We hit our objective which was to get our legs back, get [injury] treatments and try to get guys healthy,” said Stevens.
Both teams have concerning injuries.
UMaine’s leading two receivers, Joe Gillette and Montigo Moss, had to leave their last game, a 42-25 loss to Hampton, due to injuries.
In addition to Brosmer, Dylan Laube, the FCS leader in all-purpose yards, also got hurt against Monmouth and didn’t return. Between rushing yards (749), receiving yards (699), punt return yards (180) and kickoff return yardage (467), he has racked up an impressive 2,095 total yards.
The game should be a shootout with two high-powered offenses against two porous defenses.
UMaine quarterback Derek Robertson is 10th in passing yards (2,618) and has thrown 22 touchdown passes in his last six games.
UNH’s defense is ranked 104th among 122 FCS schools having allowed an average of 425.9 yards per game. UMaine’s is 101st (420.6).
UMaine is allowing 31.6 points per game (99th) and UNH is surrendering 30 (92nd).
Brosmer has completed 64.1 percent of his passes and Robertson has completed 64 percent.
But Santos said his defensive line is coming off its best game of the season and Stevens feels his defense has made progress.
They’ve gotten stops in key moments when they needed to get the ball back to the offense,” said Stevens. “We’ve done well in sudden-change situations (when the offense turned the ball over to the opponent). And they’ve done a good job in the red zone (inside their 20-yard line).”
Opponents have scored 27 touchdowns in 41 trips into the red zone.
“We have a lot of young guys and first-year guys who have gained some valuable experience,” said Stevens. “I’m pleased with their progress.”
UMaine has been hurt by injuries to running backs Tristen Kenan and Tavion Banks but both are healthy now and Kenan rushed for 88 yards on 16 carries against Hampton.
“That’s huge. It gives us more balance so we don’t have to rely just on our passing game,” said Stevens.
That would also enable the Black Bears to keep possession of the ball and keep it out of the hands of the explosive Wildcats.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us,” said Stevens.