Saturday afternoon’s Senior Day football game between the University of Maine and the University of Massachusetts will hold importance in the lives of seniors and their families, but it will also serve as a representation of another rivalry being broken up in New England college football.
This game will mark the final home game of the season for the Black Bears, the last time the seniors will play in front of the home crowd, and the last time UMaine and UMass will square off in a long-lasting rivalry that goes back to the Yankee Conference days.
It is also a big game for the Black Bears in the chase for the Colonial Athletic Association title. With two games to go, they currently sit in a three-way tie for first place with Towson University and the University of New Hampshire.
The 7-2 Black Bears and the 5-4 Minutemen are both coming off home losses to Towson University and Villanova University respectively and will be looking to turn things around as they head down the home stretch of the season.
Two things both teams will have to improve on are turnovers and penalties. The Black Bears committed five penalties for 25 yards — four coming in the first quarter — and the Minutemen were called for nine penalties for 100 yards.
UMaine also turned the ball over more times in the Towson game than they had in any of their previous games, with one fumble and two interceptions. UMass turned the ball over six times against Villanova, with three interceptions and three fumbles.
Head coach Jack Cosgrove realizes UMaine will have to overcome these problems to be successful on Saturday.
“Four of the penalties came on the first quarter; I don’t know if it was anxiety or the nervousness from the game that caused it,” Cosgrove said. “As for the turnovers, the poor decisions on throws were a major factor. It was the first time all year we had three turnovers.”
After the game on Saturday Cosgrove mentioned how Towson was able to recover from a tough loss at home the previous week. He hopes UMaine will have a similar response.
“I hope we’re able to bounce back from the loss,” he said. “When you lose, you learn from the experience, you respond as a team and you fix what went wrong. UMass, and anyone that is worth their salt, will bounce back and recover from a loss. That alone will make this game more demanding.”
Another challenge for the Black Bears is the possibility that two of the offense’s top playmakers may not be able to take the field on Saturday.
Junior leading receiver Maurice McDonald left the game against Towson, and senior running back Pushaun Brown was held out for the entirety of the contest.
Freshmen wide receivers DeMarr Aultman and Arthur Williams, as well as redshirt freshman running back David Hood, have stepped in to fill the voids and will have to continue to play at a high level.
“We are waiting to see the results about Maurice’s injury,” Cosgrove said. “We have to wait for a scan to come back. His X-rays were negative, but we want to make completely sure about his status before we go any further. [Aultman and Williams] will have to fill the void if Maurice can’t go; they are the next two guys.
“Pushaun didn’t practice [Tuesday]. We’re going to see where he is at and see if he will be able to play come Saturday,” Cosgrove added. “David has done a nice job, and he has played well outside of that turnover [against Towson].”
The Minutemen have a long history of success against the Black Bears, with a 41-15-1 record that dates back to the days when both schools were part of the Yankee Conference, which existed from 1938 to 1997 and consisted of mainly New England schools before merging with the Atlantic 10.
With UMass moving up to join the Mid-American Conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision next year, this will likely be the Minutemen’s last trip to Orono.
“It is too bad. They are a longtime rival of ours, and it is another New England team not playing in the conference,” Cosgrove said. “[Northeastern University] left, [Boston University] dropped their program, [the University of Rhode Island] is moving in a different direction. The only two teams left from the old Yankee Conference are going to be [the University of New Hampshire] and us.”
UMass has a talented squad coming to Orono, with running back Jonathan Hernandez leading the rushing attack with 954 yards on 215 carries so far this season, as well as 141 yards receiving.
Quarterback Kellen Pagel has completed 58 percent of his passes and has no shortage of receivers to throw to. Four UMass wide receivers have over 300 yards for the year, with Julian Talley leading the team with 595 yards.
The defense is also impressive, as linebacker Tyler Holmes became the first player to return two interceptions for touchdowns in one game in school history. UMass also boasts the second-best rushing defense in the conference during CAA play.
“They have always been a challenge,” Cosgrove said. “We have never done well against them, going back to the Yankee Conference. They have great skill at every position. They have great receivers. They have Hernandez at running back. They have the two best line-backers in the league — Tyler [Holmes] returned two interceptions [for touchdowns] on us last year.”
Senior Day will begin at Alfond Stadium on Saturday afternoon, with kick-off scheduled for 12:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on WABI channel 5.