(Durham NH) “It’s a great day to be a Wildcat,” said senior back Evan Gray as he ran off the field Saturday afternoon. “We don’t lose here.”
Evan’s 4-yard blast up the middle in the second quarter put UNH in front, 14-7, and the Wildcats defense took it from there. The Wildcats won all five games this season on the home turf.
UNH (6-5) also took back the treasured Brice-Cowell musket as the closing second counted down from the Maine sideline.
“We got the musket back where it really belongs,” said interim UNH coach Ricky Santos.
Coach Santos was suddenly thrust into the head coaching spot in August when head coach Sean McDonnell stepped aside to battle cancer. Coach McDonnell was on hand to greet the honored seniors pre-game.
The Black Bears (6-6) being held to only ten points was a big surprise. The team from Orono (ME) hadn’t been held to less that thirty-one points in each of their previous five games.
Fifth-year coach Nick Charlton: “We had plenty of opportunities but didn’t capitalize. In the big moments of the game we didn’t come up with the plays and they did.”
The final score was misleading.
UMaine’s Kenny Doak kicked a 45-yard field goal seven minutes into the final quarter and the Black Bears were within four, 14-10, with plenty of time left.
UMaine, in fact, got the ball back in great field position (their own 47) after a short (24 yards) Jason Hughes punt.
But after a first-down pass to Jaquan Blair (8 catches – 91 yards) the UNH defense forced two incompletions and Cameron Brusko recorded a sack forcing UMaine to surrender possession.
The Wildcats followed with their best drive of the day (92 yards). Included in that drive was a 36-yard catch by Malik Love (11 catches – 115 yards) and a 34-yard run by Dylan Laube (9 carries – 63 yards). The touchdown play was a four-yard pass from quarterback Max Brosmer (24/34 – 241 yards) to defensive end and seldom-targeted Gunner Gibson.
Gunner talked about the catch post-game: “We sometimes put in special packages where I’m at tight end or fullback. We didn’t run that play a lot in practice. I was a little surprised to see the ball come my way.” Gunner made the catch, side-stepped a defender to get to the end zone.
Coach Santos joked that every time they ran that play for Gunner in practice the ball was dropped………but not this time and UNH had an eleven-point lead, 21-10.
The Black Bears had rallied back from a 14-point deficit against Rhode Island the previous week and they were on a four-game win streak but the UMaine comeback plans quickly went up in smoke!
On the first play from scrimmage in the first quarter, the Black Bears had fumbled (Devin Young) giving UNH possession. Three plays later Dylan Laube had a catch/run for a 35-yard score.
On UMaine’s last play of the game there was another fumble (their fourth). On this one, corner back Prince Smith picked up the miscue and ran it home. Game, set, match.
This sudden turn of events gave UNH two touchdowns in twelve seconds – “The game got away a little bit at the end” – Coach Charlton.
Despite the four scores for the game, there were times when the UNH offense struggled. “Offensively, we did some good things in the first quarter and a half,” said Coach Santos. “We were moving the ball at will until we shot ourselves in the foot with a couple of turnovers deep in the red zone. But the defense had our backs and made sure it didn’t lead to points the other way.”
UMaine senior Earnest Edwards ran for forty-nine yards and had sixty yards in pass receptions and scored a touchdown. Big day for most players but not Earnest. He came into the game with 1037 yards pass receiving and ten touchdowns. He had run two kickoffs back for scores and thrown four touchdown passes.
Earnest’s sixty pass receiving yards today, however, put him at 2641 career yards and make him UMaine’s all-time leader in passing yards.
Wildcat senior Malik Love on his big day (11 catches/115 yards): “The coaches did a good job of scheming up their defenses. They put us in positions to be successful. They were running coverages that we had gone over in practice.”
Coach Santos said, “Malik was inspired all week. He said it was a game in which he was going to go off and he did.”
“This was a big win for UNH,” said Coach Charlton. “They definitely earned it. I thought that they tackled and covered well. When we tried to take shots down the field, they eliminated that. We did have some success in the short and intermediate area. Our turnovers killed our momentum. Two of them were when the ballgame was close.”
UMaine QB Joe Fagnano expressed disappointment post-game: “They were taking the deep play away. I didn’t execute very well.”
“We did a good job of disguising coverage in the secondary,” explained Coach Santos. “We may have tricked the freshman quarterback a couple of times.”
The weather at Wildcat Stadium was sunny and in the 40s.
UNH is now 18-5 at home since the new stadium was opened in 2016.
UMaine defeated UNH at Orono last season, 35-7, but have lost nine of their last ten to UNH otherwise.
Coach Santos is undefeated (9-0) against Maine; four as a player, four as an assistant coach, and now one as the interim head coach.
“We’re trying to create a winning culture at Maine,” said Coach Charlton. “They already have a winning culture at UNH.”
Over 10,000 spectators attended the game.
I greatly appreciated the stats provided by the UNH athletic department. Special thanks to Mike Murphy for arranging the media credentials for me.
(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)