The University of Maine football team took the field for their last time this season at the University of New Hampshire, in the highly anticipated Border Battle over the Brice-Cowell Musket. Maine, who took the NCAA’s playoff spot last year and made a deep playoff push, sits at fifth in the conference, with James Madison streaking ahead at 11-1 to take the division crown.
The problems started immediately for Maine, and a multitude of miscues buried the Black Bears over the course of the afternoon. First-year quarterback Joe Fagnano dropped back to pass at his own 36 and hit third-year wide receiver Devin Young on a crossing route. Young was tackled by fourth-year cornerback Isiah Perkins, but not before Perkins stripped the ball from Young’s hands, and the fumble was recovered by second-year safety Pop Bush at the Black Bears’ 35.
From there, first-year quarterback Max Brosmer proceeded to throw two passes, with both being broken up by great Maine defense. On his third attempt, Brosmer connected with first-year running back Dylan Laube for the 35-yard touchdown. A chip shot extra point from third-year kicker Jason Hughes gave New Hampshire a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the contest.
Fagnano and the offense didn’t waiver following their miscue, and they orchestrated a five-play, 62-yard drive, aided by a New Hampshire personal foul and a separate roughing the passer penalty on Fagnano. With multiple rushes from Fagnano, fourth-year running back Joe Fitzpatrick and fourth-year wide receiver Earnest Edwards, Maine set up shop on New Hampshire’s 12-yard line. Fagnano dropped back to pass, and the Wildcats sent the house at him. Fagnano climbed the collapsing pocket before uncorking a beautiful dart to the back of the endzone, hitting Edwards in stride for the tying score. An easy point after attempt by third-year kicker Kenny Doak tied the game at seven.
Maine’s vaunted “Black Hole” defense ate up the Wildcats on their ensuing drive. New Hampshire and Brosmer set up shop on their own 42-yard line and managed to work their way down the field through the air. Fourth-year running back Evan Gray had two totes of the rock on the drive, with the first going for six yards and the other resulting in a 4-yard loss. After getting down to Maine’s 25, fourth-year defensive lineman Kayon Whitaker walked the offensive lineman blocking him right into Brosmer’s lap, and strip-sacked the quarterback in the process.
The loose ball was scooped up by Maine’s second-year defensive back Shaquille St-Lot, and the Black Bears took over on their own 25.
Edwards, starting in the pistol for the Wildcat formation had the ball snapped directly to him, but New Hampshire snuffed out the trickery and swarmed Edwards for a 5-yard loss. Following two more rushing attempts, the Black Bears faced fourth down with three yards to gain on their own 32-yard line. Head coach Nick Charlton elected not to go for it and sent out his special teams unit. Fourth-year punter Derek Deoul sent a booming punt 43 yards to New Hampshire’s 25-yard line, and an additional penalty against the Wildcats on the return backed them up to their own 15-yard line.
The Wildcats pieced together a death by paper cuts drive, chipping away at the field in small chunks, with only one play gaining more than 10 yards. The Wildcats made it all the way down to Maine’s 41 before being forced to fourth down. With the kick being outside of Hughes’ range for a field goal, New Hampshire elected to go for the short distance punt.
Maine’s ensuing drive fizzled out at their own 37-yard line, and Deoul was sent out once again and delivered once more, sending a 40-yard punt to New Hampshire’s 23 yard-line. The Wildcats orchestrated another lengthy drive, marching 72 yards down the field on 11 plays, capped off with a 4-yard touchdown rush by Gray. Neither team managed to put together a successful drive for the remainder of the half, and the Wildcats held a 14-7 lead going into the half.
The third quarter devolved into a defensive slugfest, as both Hughes and Deoul were sent onto the field to cap off every drive for their teams, except for one New Hampshire drive that ended with St-Lot picking off Brosmer at Maine’s 2-yard line. The Black Bears’ defense held strong in multiple red-zone stands throughout the contest, but the lack of offensive production and multiple fumbles sank Maine’s ship.
Maine managed to facilitate one more successful scoring drive in the fourth quarter, capitalizing on great field position thanks to a poor punt from Hughes. Fagnano and the offense only managed to gain 11 yards on five plays, but that was enough to get Doak in range for a 45-yard field goal to make the score 14-10.
Both teams traded punts to eat up more clock time, but with six minutes left in the game New Hampshire drove down the field on multiple chunk yardage plays, including a 36-yard completion from Brosmer to fourth-year wide receiver Malik Love and a 34-yard rush by Laube, leading to a 4-yard touchdown pass from Brosmer to second-year tight end Gunner Gibson. Following the extra point, Maine found themselves down 21-10 with under two minutes to play.
Fagnano took to the field, looking to channel his inner Brett Favre and use a gunslinger attack style to tear apart the Wildcats’ defense. He never got the chance, as the Wildcats sent the house at him on first down, and fourth-year defensive end Josh Kania found his mark, strip sacking Fagnano on Maine’s 27-yard line. The ball was scooped up by fourth-year cornerback Prince Smith, who returned it 27 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Black Bears headed off the field hanging their heads in defeat, knowing they left points on the field with foolish mistakes and poor ball management. Maine’s season comes to a close, and with a plethora of talented players graduating, including the school’s all-time receiving yardage leader Edwards, look for Charlton’s squad to get back to their roots of smash-mouth, “Black Hole” football for next year.