University of Maine players carry the Brice-Cowell Musket after the Black Bears defeated New Hampshire 35-7 last season in Orono. The Wildcats, however, have won 15 of the last 17 meetings with Maine. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

ORONO — For Joe Fitzpatrick, any talk this week about the University of Maine football team needing to win Saturday against New Hampshire to have a chance at a Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth is unnecessary.

“Me, personally, all that we need to know is that we’re playing UNH,” said Fitzpatrick, a senior running back from North Yarmouth and Cheverus High. “That’s all the motivation I need. All the seniors, that’s all the motivation we need. We’ve been to this game before, we know what the environment’s like, we know what it’s like playing against those guys.

“Honestly, since the middle of the season when we started thinking about postseason stuff, how it’s going to work out, all we wanted to do was to keep playing and keep winning. And that’s been good. But ever since the end of URI (a 34-30 Maine win last Saturday), I haven’t thought about the postseason. All I’ve thought about is UNH.”

The Black Bears (6-5 overall, 4-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association) will play New Hampshire (5-5, 4-3) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Wildcat Stadium in the 108th meeting between the schools.

But Maine’s Border Battle rivalry game with New Hampshire does come with higher stakes this year. Not only are the teams playing for the rivalry’s Brice-Cowell Musket – currently situated above the entrance to the Maine locker room following a 35-7 win last year – but Maine’s playoff hopes once again hang in the balance.

Maine has won four consecutive games but must win a fifth to have any shot at an FCS playoff berth. Even then, there’s no guarantee that the selection committee will make the Black Bears one of the 14 at-large teams in the 24-team playoffs when the field is announced Sunday afternoon.

Maine, which advanced to the national semifinals a year ago, may need some help, in the form of losses by either Albany (7-4, 5-2) and Towson (7-4, 4-3) – or both. James Madison (10-1, 9-0) and Villanova (8-3, 4-3) appear to be locks from the CAA for the playoffs. If Albany (at Stony Brook) and Towson (home to Elon) both win, their eight overall wins should be enough to get both in. If that happens and Maine wins, the committee would then have to decide if the league deserves to have five teams in the playoffs, or just four. Last year the CAA had six teams selected.

If Albany loses and Maine wins, the Black Bears should get the berth over Albany because of a 47-31 head-to-head Maine win. If Towson loses and Maine wins, it gets stickier because Towson defeated Maine 45-23.

Teams with five losses have made the FCS playoffs before, including Northern Iowa last year. Two of Maine’s losses were to FBS programs Georgia Southern and Liberty. And the NCAA loves hot teams heading into the playoffs.

Maine Coach Nick Charlton believes a win should get his team in.

“We’re confident our body of work is enough,” he said. “But we’ve got to find a way to get a win against a very good team.”

Maine is also bucking history. The Black Bears have not won in Durham, New Hampshire, since 2001 (a 57-24 victory) and have lost the last eight games there.

“We came close in 2017 (a 24-23 loss on a missed extra point),” said senior defensive lineman Charles Mitchell. “This year, we’re trying to erase all of that.”

Charlton’s message to his players has been simple: “Different team, different time,” he said. “We just need to play well in the moment. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing.”

New Hampshire was eliminated from the playoffs with its 24-17 loss at Albany last Saturday. But interim coach Ricky Santos, stepping in after head coach Sean McDonnell took a leave of absence for health reasons just before the season, said there is plenty to play for.

“The motivation takes care of itself,” said Santos, who never lost to Maine as a UNH quarterback from 2004-07. “Everybody knows how important this game is. We look up and see an empty space where the musket should be.”

New Hampshire has had plenty of quality time with the musket, which stays on the campus of the winning team until the next time the rivals meet. Last year’s Maine win snapped an eight-game Wildcats winning streak. New Hampshire has won 15 of the last 17 games between the schools.

“The musket symbolizes this rivalry,” said Maine senior defensive end Alejandro Oregon of Brooklyn, New York. “And there is always great competition between the schools. When I first got here, I didn’t expect (the rivalry) to be this big. In high school, rivalries just are not as big as in college. So I was caught off-guard.”

Now that’s he’s played in a few of these games, Oregon knows what it takes to win them. And he knows the stakes are pretty high.

“We have to win,” he said. “We have to go 1-0 this week and then we’ll see what the next step is. For us, for our season not to end now, we have to execute in every type of way Saturday to reach our next goal.”

NOTES: The Black Bears released their 11-game 2020 football schedule on Thursday, including two games once again against FBS programs. Maine will open the 2020 season on Sept. 5 in Muncie, Indiana, against Ball State, a member of the Mid-American Conference, and finish at home against New Hampshire on Nov. 21. In addition to Ball State (which has guaranteed Maine $400,000 to play there), Maine will play at Connecticut on Oct. 10, receiving a $280,500 guaranteed fee. Maine’s first home game is Sept. 12, against CAA foe Delaware. Maine will have five home games, including Monmouth (this year’s winner of the Big South, which will receive $85,000 to travel to Orono) on Sept. 19, Villanova on Oct. 17 and Albany on Nov. 7. Maine will play CAA road games at Richmond (Sept. 26),  Rhode Island (Oct. 24),  James Madison (Oct. 31) and Stony Brook (Nov. 14).

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