It’s not like Maine needs any more incentive to beat its biggest rival in Saturday’s season-ending football game.

But New Hampshire comes to Orono with the No. 1 ranking in the nation and a nine-game winning streak.

“This is always a big game for us. They’re right down the road, it’s for the (Brice Cowell) musket. But I also think it’s an opportunity to play the best team in the country,” Black Bears offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin said Monday. “It brings some juice and there’s a little bit more excitement.”

Maine (5-5, 4-3 Colonial Athletic Association) won its third consecutive game Saturday, 24-17 at Elon. It’s a far cry from where the Black Bears were a year ago, when they had clinched the CAA crown going into the game at New Hampshire. The Wildcats (9-1, 7-0) defeated Maine in that game, and two weeks later came up to Orono and did so again in the playoffs.

Bourgoin knows his offense is going to have to play better to keep up with the high-scoring Wildcats. Maine committed five penalties and had six negative-yardage plays against Elon, both areas of concern.

“We were too hot and cold, I felt,” Bourgoin said. “It was a big play and then there’d be a negative play.”

New Hampshire Coach Sean McDonnell has been downplaying his team’s No. 1 ranking, which it first earned last week. The Wildcats responded with a 43-14 defeat of Delaware. The focus is on winning the CAA title outright. If New Hampshire loses Saturday and Villanova wins, the teams would share the championship.

“They’ve worked very, very hard and we’ve come close a couple of times and shared the title, never had the chance to win it outright and claim it for yourselves,” McDonnell said. “I think that would be another thing that this senior class has put themselves on the map here in the UNH legacy.”

He knows it won’t be easy, though.

“This is UNH-Maine,” McDonnell said. “We can play on a parking area on (Interstate) 95 and it would be just as competitive of a football game as it would be playing in either Orono or Durham.”

JAMES MADISON MOVED up eight spots to 17th in the FCS poll after a 55-20 win at Richmond on Saturday. It was the sixth consecutive win for the Dukes, who are the surprise of the CAA at 8-3.

Coach Everett Withers said the seniors have been the catalysts.

“I think they knew how to work. It was a group that hung together,” he said.

The Dukes’ offensive line has made such solid progress that quarterback Vad Lee proclaimed it the best in the nation.

Withers pointed out that Lee, a junior who transferred from Georgia Tech, hasn’t seen all the other teams in America, but …

“He really believes in those guys up front. I don’t think it’s a stretch. Obviously, it’s an opinion.”

Lee has rushed for 741 yards and seven touchdowns. But it’s his 3,006 passing yards and 26 touchdowns that have put him in the conversation as the best quarterback in the league. At Georgia Tech, he was rarely asked to pass.

“We always thought Vad had some special qualities,” Withers said. “Vad wanted to do more. He wanted to be able to throw the football like he did in high school (in Durham, N.C.).

“We want a dual-threat type quarterback who can extend plays and make plays off schedule.”

RHODE ISLAND GETS one more shot at entering the win column this season, at home Saturday against Towson. The Rams are 0-11, including a 20-14 loss to Maine, but Rams Coach Jim Fleming doesn’t sense any despair.

“We’ve been able to be competitive and push things later and later into the games. The crushing thing for all of us is the inability to finish and get in that locker room with the feeling of a victory,” Fleming said. “These kids are not acting like you would think an 0-11 football team acts with no care and all the rest of it.”

Towson, national runner-up last season, is a disappointing 4-7 this fall, with only two conference victories. Fleming was asked if he views it as a favorable matchup.

“We’re an 0-11 football team, we’re not taking advantage of anybody,” he said. “I don’t think that there’s any pushovers. We haven’t had one all year long.”

One bright spot for Rhode Island is the return of senior running back Lyle McCombs from injury. He missed six games, including the loss to Maine, but the Connecticut transfer gained a career-high 202 rushing yards Saturday in a 35-14 loss to Stony Brook.

As has been the case most of the year, Rhode Island faded late, allowing 264 rushing yards to the Seawolves.

“I thought Lyle ran it extremely well, hit the holes fast, but I do think the holes were significant in the first half,” Fleming said. “We went right after them.”


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