On a cold Saturday afternoon, the University of Maine Black Bears faced off against their rival school, the No. 18 ranked University of New Hampshire Wildcats, for the Battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket on senior day. In a thrilling game that went into overtime, the Black Bears fell just short on a two-point conversion that would have won the game and fell to their rivals 42-41.
“Credit to these players and coaches for how hard they played the entire game and all season, and I really just feel for them right now because I think that they competed right to the end,” head coach Jordan Stevens said. “Tough way to lose.”
UMaine entered this game sitting at 2-9, having long since been eliminated from playoff contention. UNH entered the game 7-3 chasing the College of William and Mary for the CAA title.
After stopping the Black Bears on their first drive, the Wildcats had no issue at all scoring. Third-year running back Dylan Laube and second-year quarterback Max Brosmer carved up UMaine’s defense for big plays, only having one first down that led to Laube scoring from three yards out for the first points.
On UMaine’s second drive, fourth-year quarterback Joe Fagnano had a wide-open third-year wide receiver Trevin Ewing, but Fagnano overthrew him. It was a costly mistake, as the Black Bears were later stopped on fourth down without any points to show.
During UNH’s next drive, Brosmer was intercepted by second-year defensive back Abdul Stewart. However, it was called back for defensive holding. The Wildcats responded afterward by moving the ball efficiently down the field, which resulted in Brosmer finding first-year wide receiver DJ Linkins, who got past the defender and scored from 33 yards out, making it 14-0.
After trading punts, UMaine got the ball back and Fagnano ran it down the field after the Wildcats were called for a horse-collar tackle. This set up fourth-year running back Elijah Barnwell to score. After taking the snap in the Wildcat formation, he kept it and stiff-armed a defender for 57 yards. Barnwell was tackled at the one but punched it in the next play to make it a seven-point deficit.
UNH did not take long to respond, as just two plays later, Brosmer found fourth-year wide receiver Sean Coyne, who was wide open on the right sideline for 48 yards. Thanks to a facemask penalty, it set up Laube for an easy score from 15 yards out, making it 21-7 Wildcats. Due to a pass interference, UMaine got the ball and took it 83 yards on 13 plays. A touchdown pass from Fagnano to third-year wide receiver Montigo Moss was called back for an illegal chop block. The Black Bears were able to score when Barnwell made another one-yard touchdown to make it 21-14 at halftime.
Coming out of the break, both teams failed to score on their first possessions. However, UNH scored first out of the break when Laube found space to the right and tight-roped his way while outrunning the defender for his third touchdown from 48–yards out, making the score 28-14.
On UMaine’s first play of their next drive, offensive line coach Patrick Kugler went back to his old routes from his Michigan days as he had five extra players line up in the backfield before going to their positions. The strategy worked to perfection when fifth-year wide receiver Zavier Scott stiff-armed the defense for a 75-yard touchdown to bring the Black Bears within seven.
After forcing UNH to punt, the Black Bears drove downfield thanks to a 21-yard rush by Fagnano and Scott. The Wildcats were called for a horse-collar penalty that eventually resulted in Fagnano keeping the ball and running for an 11-yard touchdown, tying the game up.
UNH turned to Laube to turn the tide in their favor. His large runs put Brosmer in position to find second-year wide receiver Caleb Burke for 41 yards. Two plays later, Brosmer found fifth-year tight end Adam Deese for his first career touchdown to go back up by seven.
The Black Bears’ offense delivered once more thanks to Barnwell making big plays, including converting a fourth down after Scott fumbled the ball out of bounds just shy of the endzone. UMaine continued running it down and eventually Barnwell scored from two yards out, tying the game and sending it to overtime.
UNH got the ball first in overtime, and Laube carried it four straight times, resulting in good yards. Brosmer was able to find third-year tight end Kyle Lepkowski in the endzone to go up by seven.
On UMaine’s drive, nothing was working as the Wildcats completely stuffed the Black Bear offense. Fagnano dropped back and miraculously found Barnwell, who then found Moss, who, right before he was about to get tackled, was able to lateral it to a wide-open fourth-year wide receiver Rohan Jones. Jones outran the defense all the way for a touchdown.
Knowing that the Black Bears had momentum and knowing that prolonging overtime was more than likely not to go well, Stevens decided to call for a two-point try to either win or lose the game. Fagnano took the snap and faked it to third-year running back Freddie Brock, but the defender was right on Fagnano, who was forced to throw it up and was intercepted by third-year linebacker Bryce Shaw, ending the game.
Fagnano finished the game going 16-32 for 202 yards and one touchdown. Barnwell, in his final collegiate game, carried the ball 20 times for 148 yards and three touchdowns. Scott, in his final game, led the team in receiving with five catches for 25 yards to go along with nine carries for 109 yards and one touchdown on the ground.
UMaine will graduate 25 seniors this year but will have plenty of talent returning next year to hopefully turn a lot of close games into victories next time around.