The University of Maine football team, under first-year head coach Jordan Stevens, brings a 2-8 record into its season finale Saturday against rival New Hampshire. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

As a football player at the University of Maine, Jordan Stevens never beat the Black Bears’ fiercest rival, New Hampshire. Now wrapping up his first season as Maine’s head coach, Stevens looks to change that.

As a player at UNH, Rick Santos was undefeated against the Black Bears. As the Wildcats’ head coach, that’s something he hopes to continue.

The 110th meeting between Maine and UNH is Saturday at noon at Alfond Stadium in Orono. New Hampshire leads the series, 56-45, with eight ties. Maine won last season’s game, 33-20, and has won two of the last three battles for the Brice-Cowell Musket, the trophy annually awarded to the winner.

“I feel fortunate, and I think our players do and everyone here, to be a part of a rivalry trophy game. When you’re looking around the landscape of college football, to be a part of a rivalry is a grateful position to be in,” said Stevens during his weekly conference call with Colonial Athletic Association media.

“Playing for the musket is a huge motivation for our program. It’s something I always believed in as a player, and as a coach here, as an assistant and now in this position. It’s something we want to make a big deal of. We make it important for our players.”

As quarterback at UNH from 2004-07, Santos beat the Black Bears four times. In 2006, he earned the Walter Payton Award as the top offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision.


“I’ve been part of this rivalry when we were No. 1 in the country and they took us to overtime, and I’ve been a part of this rivalry when both teams had playoff implications on the line,” said Santos, who took over as head coach this season after serving as interim head coach in 2019 when Sean McDonnell took a leave of absence. “It doesn’t matter what the records are. You throw that out. It’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be contested. It’s going to be chippy. There’s no love lost here.”

The season veered in opposite directions early for Maine and UNH. The Black Bears (2-8 overall, 2-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association) opened the season with four straight losses before winning a pair of games, but enter Saturday’s game on a four-game losing streak.

Three of those recent losses were by four or fewer points, and last Saturday’s 23-21 defeat at Albany was the most gut-wrenching of them all. A pair of defensive penalties after time expired – holding and pass interference – gave the Great Danes two untimed downs. The second resulted in the winning touchdown catch with no time showing on the clock.

“Our guys played hard throughout the entire game. It’s unfortunate the way it ended and how it unfolded. I feel bad for our players in that respect. I felt we really put them in a position to make plays,” said Stevens, an all-conference defensive end as a senior at Maine in 2009. “As we’ve done all year, we’ve moved on from the game and we’re back to work this week.”

The Wildcats, on the other hand, are looking at the Maine game as a springboard to the FCS playoffs. At 7-3 overall and 6-1 in CAA play, the Wildcats are in contention for the conference title and an invitation to the postseason. Unlike Maine, UNH has pulled out wins in close games, including last week’s 31-28 victory over Rhode Island in which DJ Linkins’ only catch of the game was a 26-yard touchdown pass from Max Brosmer with 17 seconds left.

“I have no idea if we’re in (the playoffs) or out. We’re not worried about that right now. It’s not up to us. It’s up to the selection committee,” Santos said. “Right now, we need to find a way to put a spirited effort together and get a win in one of the toughest environments to play in the country. As far as Maine goes, their record is not indicative of how good a football team they are.”

The overtime game Santos referenced came in 2006, his junior season under center for the Wildcats and Stevens’ first season as a defensive end at Maine. UNH won, 19-13, and it was the fourth in a run of seven straight Wildcat wins over the Black Bears. Maine snapped the losing streak with a 16-13 win in 2010, but UNH then reeled off eight straight, including a 41-27 victory at Maine in the second round of the FCS playoffs in 2013.

Stevens recalled the 2008 game, a 28-24 UNH win in a snowstorm. Some games in the series have been played at the start of or in the middle of the season, including Maine’s season-opening 35-7 win in 2018, which kicked off the Black Bears’ run to the FCS semifinals. Stevens said he prefers the game at the end of the season.

“However the season is going, at the end of the year you have something to play for. Having it at the end is the best place to have it,” said Stevens. “Those things make it what college football should be. You have state pride, university pride, behind it.”

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