ORONO — Two distinct reactions arose from a crowd of nearly 200 gathered inside the University of Maine’s Memorial Union Sunday morning to watch the televised selection show unveiling the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Tournament field.
The first – whoops, hollers and sustained applause – came after Maine was announced as the fifth seed, meaning the Black Bears had earned a bye and, for the first time in school history, will host a second-round game at Alfond Stadium, scheduled for 2 p.m. on Dec. 7.
Ten minutes later came the second – a collective “Oooh!” followed shortly by more cheers and applause – when the first of Maine’s two potential opponents was revealed.
On Saturday in Durham, N.H., the Wildcats (7-4) beat Maine (10-2) 24-3 to ruin a Black Bear bid at a perfect Colonial Athletic Association season, end Maine’s 12-game winning streak against FCS opponents and retain possession of the century-old rivalry’s prize, the Brice-Cowell Musket.
New Hampshire will host a first-round game at noon Saturday against Patriot League champion Lafayette (5-6), the only team in the field of 24 with a losing record.
“To play UNH would obviously be very exciting because we want to get back at them,” said senior linebacker Troy Eastman, “but they still have a game in front of them to win and we’ve got to be ready to play one of those teams.”
The top eight seeds all drew byes and will host second-round games in a tournament that expanded this fall from 20 to 24. Saturday’s loss at New Hampshire put Maine’s seeding in jeopardy, despite a national ranking of fourth heading into the weekend.
“I felt like we were going to be seven or eight, maybe nine,” said senior defensive end Mike Cole, who extended his career sack record to 29 on Saturday.
“I was just hoping we were going to be top eight to get a bye and a home game, so I’m definitely pleasantly surprised with No. 5.”
Two-time defending national champion North Dakota State (11-0) drew the top seed with Eastern Illinois (11-1) second, Eastern Washington (10-2) third and Southeast Louisiana (10-2) fourth.
The other four seeds, besides Maine: No. 6 McNeese State (10-2), No. 7 Towson (10-2) and No. 8 Montana (10-2).
All will await the winners of next weekend’s first-round games hosted by New Hampshire (making its 10th straight playoff appearance), South Carolina State (9-3), Coastal Carolina (10-2), Sam Houston State (8-4), Northern Arizona (9-2), Jacksonville State (9-3), Fordham (11-1) and Butler (9-3).
This marks the seventh tournament appearance for Maine, which is 3-3 in first- and second-round games and 0-3 in the quarterfinal round. All were played outside of New England.
“It was good to see the (fifth seed) and good to see the respect for winning the CAA,” said Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove.
“We’ve had a lot of 4-4 years in this conference and going into Saturday, we had a chance to be undefeated in a great league. We didn’t get that done, but it goes back to how great the league is and how hard that is to do.”
If things fall Maine’s way, the Black Bears could host a quarterfinal game Dec. 14 (possibly Sam Houston State) as well as a semifinal game Dec. 21 (should North Dakota State lose).
The national championship is scheduled for Jan. 4 in Frisco, Texas.
Cosgrove wouldn’t even entertain the possibility of facing New Hampshire again in two weeks.
“I don’t know if that’s something to comment on because that would be disrespectful to Lafayette and the whole process,” he said. “That’s got to play out.”
“There’s not a better setup,” said senior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski. “We have to wait and see, because Lafayette’s a good team, too. I’m sure they’ll give UNH a great game, but to think we could play UNH again and have another shot at them creates a great opportunity for us.”
Maine missed the tournament last year after a 2011 appearance that included a 34-12 victory over Appalachian State in Boone, N.C., and a 35-23 quarterfinal loss at Georgia Southern.
The Black Bears are 8-2 against Lafayette, whose offensive coordinator is former Maine quarterback Mickey Fein, and 43-50-8 against New Hampshire.
“We expect a great crowd and a great atmosphere,” Wasilewski said. “No matter who it is, we expect a great game.”
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: