New Hampshire’s defense brought home the Brice-Cowell Musket on Saturday, the final night of the regular season. The defensive unit recorded five sacks and forced four fumbles en route to a 28-10 win over archrival Maine.
Each side struggled to find a groove on offense as five total fumbles were forced and 18 total penalties for 180 yards were recorded on the afternoon.
On the opening play from scrimmage Maine’s first year quarterback Joe Fagnano completed a screen pass to sophomore Devin Young, but it was quickly punched loose by Wildcats senior cornerback Isiah Perkins. UNH gained possession and made quick work of the Black Bear defense. First year quarterback Max Brosmer completed a 35-yard pass-and-run to first year redshirt running back Dylan Laube for the score.
Maine wouldn’t stay quiet for long, however, as Fagnano brought his team to the Wildcats 16-yard line by way of the ground and the air. The quarterback found senior wideout Earnest Edwards in the right corner of the endzone to knot the game at one touchdown apiece.
Fagnano completed 18 passes on 31 attempts and totaled 183 yards and one score.
After the excitement of the first few drives, nobody would find the endzone until 6:38 in the second quarter. Brosmer methodically brought he team into Maine territory, completing four-of-six passes for 40 yards on the series. Senior running back Evan Gray punched it into the endzone from four yards out to regain a 14-7 lead.
Gray ended his UNH career with a 54-yard one touchdown performance.
With approximately four minutes remaining in the first half, Brosmer got up late after a play and was helped off the field. The quarterback was looked at under the tent while his defense was on the field, and first year redshirt quarterback Bret Edwards took over with two minutes to go in the half.
Edwards was effective on his opening drive but fumbled the football at the Maine 17-yard line on a run-pass option with Laube. Maine took over but didn’t have enough time to tie the game before time expired.
On the first Black Bear possession of the second half junior safety Evan Horn laid a big hit on senior running back Emmanuel Reed forcing a fumble and recovery for the ‘Cats.
Brosmer returned under center following the Maine turnover, and what looked to be the Wildcats most efficient series of the afternoon amounted to nothing. Brosmer was intercepted on a fourth-and-four pass intended for the back shoulder of sophomore Brian Espanet at the two-yard line.
UNH’s defensive front wouldn’t fold, however, forcing a quick three-and-out on three consecutive run plays.
UNH head coach Ricky Santos mentioned how his defense kept his team in the game even when the offense wasn’t able to be effective in opponent territory.
“We shot ourselves in the foot with a couple turnovers deep in the red zone, which is unfortunate, but every time that happened the defense found a way to have our back and make sure that it didn’t lead to points the other way.”
No team would score until halfway through the final quarter. Maine took over in New Hampshire territory after a short punt from junior Jason Hughes, and the Black Bears only needed to gain 11 yards to set up junior Kenny Doak for the 45-yard field goal which closed the gap to four points.
Laube and senior wideout Malik Love continued to put their stamp on the game late in the fourth. Love started the drive with a 36-yard reception, and Laube would follow up with 50 total yards on the drive. All of this leading to a four-yard touchdown reception drawn up specifically for sophomore defensive end Gunner Gibson.
Gibson talked about how he was a little surprised when his number was called, but was ready after a week of practice.
“We sometimes put in a couple special packages where I’m at fullback or tight end, we didn’t run that play a lot in practice, but it worked out well in the game.”
Ricky Santos laughed when admitting that the team hadn’t converted that play all week in practice.
Love paced UNH in receiving with 115 yards on 11 receptions and Laube gained 106 yards of total offense on nine carries and two receptions. The running back also had 73 kick return yards in the final game.
Brosmer capped his inagural season with one of his most efficient performances of the season. The quarterback completed 24-of-34 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns.
On the first play of the ensuing series senior Josh Kania forced a fumble from Fagnano which was recovered by senior defensive back Prince Smith Jr. and returned 30 yards for the score, securing the 28-10 win and a musket for UNH.
Horn led the defense with 11 tackles to go along with two sacks and a forced fumble. He knew the defense had to step up this week following two losses.
“We’ve been harping all week that we have to play well because we know the last few weeks here, we haven’t played up to our standards.”
Santos piggybacked on this and gave praise to his defensive unit after the win.
“The defensive effort all season has been unbelievable, but they took it to another level tonight.”
Sitting at 6-5 gives UNH a slim shot at the playoffs, but the fact that Santos and his team kept all but one game competitive makes him confident if they get an opportunity in the postseason.
“We still have some stuff to clean up offensively, but we proved that we’re a very good football team and that we can beat anybody in the country. With that win I think that we’re a team that could make some noise in the tournament.”
Santos had two simple words to summarize his first year as a head coach and capping it off with a win over Maine.