BIDDEFORD — It’s a play University of New England quarterback Jarrett Henault and wide receiver AJ DeFilio have practiced countless times.

DeFilio cuts hard to the left and heads to the sideline, and Henault hits him in stride. This time, Rochester’s Jordy Tawa broke it up. Incomplete pass, game over. Rochester 29, UNE 27, in double overtime. It was the first loss of the season for the Nor’easters (3-1) in front of a homecoming crowd of 2,538.

“I wish we could’ve brought them home with a homecoming win,” Henault said. “Sometimes it doesn’t come out the way you want it to.”

The UNE football program is now in fifth season of varsity play. Even with Saturday’s tough loss, the Nor’easters are off to the best start in their short history. With players like Henault and DeFilio, UNE is shedding that new program identity and becoming a contender in the Commonwealth Coast Conference.

Both juniors, Henault and DeFilio joined the team in 2021. They’ve become the two biggest weapons on the Nor’easters offense. Henault, from Goffstown, New Hampshire, has completed 72% of his passes (99 for 137) for 1,061 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He’s also rushed for 251 yards and six touchdowns, including two Saturday. He entered the game ranked 18th in NCAA Division III in total offense.

So far this season, DeFilio has been Henault’s favorite target, with 26 catches for 287 yards and a touchdown. Against Rochester, they connected five times for 68 yards.


DeFilio knew they could be something special on the football field late in their freshmen year, when he and Henault played Madden, the popular football video game, in their dorm.

“I didn’t know Jarrett that well yet. We just really talked about what we wanted next year (sophomore year), how bad we wanted to work, what we were willing to do,” said DeFilio, who’s from Durham, Connecticut. “He came out sophomore year, and he proved it to us. Then he comes out here again (this season) and got even better. I just trust him with everything. Our whole team trusts each other.”

The trust comes from throwing the ball to DeFilio every day, Henault said.

Henault’s first completion Saturday went to DeFilio for 17 yards and a first down early in the first quarter. But it’s the one that fell incomplete to end the game that they’ll remember. It will become part of the mortar they’re using to help build the UNE program. Henault said when he enrolled at UNE, he was attracted by the opportunity to help build the program. DeFilio saw the potential in the Nor’easters, too, though that wasn’t the only thing that drew him to the Biddeford campus.

“Honestly, it was close to the beach,” DeFilio said. “It was just far enough from home. It just felt really organized. I saw the opportunity we had. I saw the great players we had. There was just a welcoming feeling here.”

A tough loss is part of the process. Henault and DeFilio know that, even if it hurts to acknowledge it.

“We’ve gone through good times. We’ve gone through bad times. We’re just going to stick together,” DeFilio said. “Everybody’s sad right now, but we’re all loving each other, trying to keep each other up.”

Missing on a play he’s run so often is motivation, Henault said. There’s a game against Castleton next Saturday, a young program like UNE that’s trying to create something. Henault knows he’ll hunker down this week and work on the base offense. Do the little things great, he said. Put Saturday’s loss in the past. Don’t stew over it, but remember it the right way, too.

“We’re going to learn from the mistakes in this game, and learn from the positives, and come back ready for Castleton,” Henault said. “We kept our pride. It came down to the last play, and it was a great college football game.”

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