This year, the battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket takes on added signficance. Call it the “Thursday Night Throwdown.”

The University of Maine’s season-opening football game at New Hampshire has been moved from Saturday, Sept. 2, to Thursday, Aug. 31. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. at UNH’s Wildcat Stadium in Durham.

Through the years, the border rivals have typically played in the season finale. They’ve done that in 16 of the last 18 years, including last fall, when the Wildcats defeated Maine 24-21 in Orono to end the Black Bears’ season with a 6-5 record.

This will be the first time since 1992 that the teams open the season against each other. And the hype has started already. The game is being billed by UNH as the “Thursday Night Throwdown.”

Joe Harasymiak, the second-year Maine coach, compared the Thursday night opener to some of the early season games pitting national powers against each other – only this one has Colonial Athletic Association implications.

“This will be something,” said Harasymiak. “You get the feeling of a big-time game right off the bat. You have a game that’s going to matter. It’s great for the conference, it’s great for both programs.

“It’s exciting to be playing on opening night. It’s going to be great for New England football. I would say for the (Football Championship Subdivision), it should be the game of the week. It just fits that mold.”

Karlton Creech, Maine’s athletic director, said the change is “a great way to put us in spotlight. It will be a great night at UNH, a great day for us to showcase our rivalry in a different way then we have in the past.”

New Hampshire has defeated Maine seven consecutive times, and in 14 of their last 15 meetings. It leads the rivalry 54-43-8. The Brice-Cowell Musket goes to the winner of the game, and has been in UNH’s possession since November 2011.

Harasymiak knows that if the Black Bears are to contend in the CAA, they have to beat teams like New Hampshire, which has qualified for the FCS playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons.

“The teams and the fans are going to be fired up for a number of reasons,” said Harasymiak. “It’s the first game of the season. It’s our rival. It’s the battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket. And there are conference implications in the best conference in the FCS.

“It’s got everything you want from a conference standpoint.”

Maine’s schedule doesn’t get any easier after UNH. After playing Bryant University in the home opener on Sept. 9, Maine has a bye week, then plays at defending FCS champion James Madison on Sept. 23, and at Central Florida – a Football Bowl Subdivision school – on Sept. 30.

Maine then plays at Villanova, another perennial FCS playoff team, on Oct. 7 before returning home to play Rhode Island.

Maine has one other game against an FBS opponent: Massachusetts on Nov. 11, at Fenway Park in Boston.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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