WILDCATS 20, BLACK BEARS 33
DURHAM, N.H. – The University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (3-8, 2-6) jumped out to a 20-7 lead with 9:50 remaining in the first half of their regular season finale against the Maine Black Bears (6-5, 4-4). From that point forward, four interceptions and six scoring plays for the visiting Black Bears led to 26 unanswered points and the Brice-Cowell Musket’s sixth trip back to Orono since the turn of the century.
“When we get four interceptions it’s hard not to score points,” said Maine’s junior quarterback Joe Fagnano. “When [the defense] is doing their job, it makes our job a lot easier.”
The Black Bears continued to emphasize postgame that their comeback was sparked by each side of the ball being pushed by the other. Three of the four New Hampshire interceptions led to points in some fashion for the visitors. Conversely, the Wildcats racked up 222 rushing yards in the first half, and just 16 in the final 30 minutes.
UNH head coach Sean McDonnell credited Maine’s defense for stepping up in the second half. Once the Black Bears took the lead in the second half, head coach Nick Charlton thought the Wildcats were forced to attack through the air more than they had in the first half. He explained this is exactly where he wanted his team to be, keeping the ball out of the hands of junior Carlos Washington Jr. and sophomore Dylan Laube.
New Hampshire’s quarterback situation was once again in flux heading into Saturday afternoon’s game. Sophomore Bret Edwards did not dress for the game which gave junior Tommy Herion the nod in this year’s Border Battle.
Charlton explained that he knew his team was going to have to come into Wildcat Stadium and take this game rather than New Hampshire giving it to them. What Herion did give the Black Bears, however, was a handful of costly turnovers. McDonnell noted that he thought Herion forced some things in his first start on the season despite the fact that senior captain Nick Lorden – who was the recipient of Herion’s first career touchdown pass – thought Herion played well enough to win the game.
“Unfazed,” said Lorden about Herion being thrown into the fire. “He came in, let it fly and gave us our best opportunity to win the game.”
Herion was 15-for-30 (50%) with 156 yards and three touchdowns.
As for the Black Bears that were around in 2019, they didn’t need any more motivation heading into this year’s rivalry game. Senior defensive back Rich Carr and graduate student wide receiver Andre Miller each said the 2019 loss has been stuck in their minds all week long.
“I never forgot that feeling when they took it from us in 2019,” said Carr. “That’s all I could think about this whole week… I never wanted to feel like that ever again.”
For a Wildcat team that began the season 3-0 with aspirations of a playoff return, it’s hard to imagine a loss that will sting more than this. Not only losing the musket to one of their biggest rivals, but Saturday’s loss capped off an eight-game losing streak to end the season for McDonnell and the Wildcats. Following a 14-year playoff streak, New Hampshire has gone a sobering 13-21 over the last four seasons.
Photos courtesy of Cameron Beall