DURHAM — The University of New Hampshire had control early. Then, just like their entire season, things started to slip away, and the Wildcats couldn’t stop it.
After trailing by 13, the University of Maine football team scored 26 unanswered points, held UNH scoreless in the second half and posted a 33-20 season-closing win. It’s the first time since 2001 the Black Bears have won in Durham, and just the third time they’ve beaten UNH in their last 19 attempts. The Brice-Cowell Musket, the trophy for this border rivalry, will now reside in Orono for at least a year.
It’s the eighth straight loss for the Wildcats (3-8), who started the year with three straight wins. Maine (6-5), on the other hand, started the season 1-4 but finished with five wins in its last six games.
“Obviously a tough way to end the season for us in a lot of different ways, but especially today,” UNH Coach Sean McDonnell said. “We jumped on ‘em early and played very, very well in the first quarter and a little bit into the second quarter, and they responded, probably just like they responded in their whole season.”
Tommy Herion started at quarterback for the Wildcats. Not only was it his first career start, but Herion began the season as a graduate assistant coach. When returning starter Max Brosmer was hurt in the preseason, McDonnell put Herion on the roster to add depth to the position. And with Bret Edwards out on Saturday with an injury, Herion got the call.
“Tom got thrown into the fire,” UNH senior receiver Nick Lorden said. “It was an interesting situation, and he attacked it.”
Herion hit Lorden, a Bishop Guertin grad, in the back of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown pass to give the ’Cats a 7-0 lead midway through the first. Then Herion (15-for-30, 156 yards, three touchdowns, four interceptions) found Carlos Washington in the flat for a 4-yard touchdown early in the second to push the lead to 13-0.
At that point, the Wildcats were in charge. The offense was moving with a rhythm it lacked most of the year and the defense was containing Maine. Then, just two minutes into the second quarter, UNH linebacker Oleh Manzyk went down with an injury.
There was a 20-minute delay as medical personnel attended to Manzyk, who left the field on a stretcher. The good news is that McDonnell said Manzyk, “had some pain in his neck but all extremities and everything are moving real well and they took him (to the hospital) more to check up on him and make sure he’s OK.” The bad news for the Wildcats was they never regained the momentum they had before the delay.
The ’Cats looked flat-footed when they came back on the field, and the Black Bears took advantage in just two plays. Joe Fagnano (21-for-34, 249 yards, two touchdowns) connected with Andrew Miller (eight catches, 136 yards) to convert a third-and-19, and then Freddie Brock bolted for a 29-yard touchdown run to make it 13-7 with 11:59 left in the second quarter.
New Hampshire answered with a five-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a pretty, one-handed touchdown catch from Brian Espanet, but that wasn’t enough to steal the momentum back. The Black Bears came up with three scoring drives in the final 10 minutes of the first quarter — two field goals from Jonny Messina and a 16-yard touchdown pass from Fagnano to a wide- open Shawn Bowman — and the game was tied, 20-20, at halftime.
“It felt like at that point (after the delay and the quick score) we knew we were in the game, and then our defense really hunkered in,” Maine Coach Nick Charlton said. “I mean, we didn’t give up any points after that.”
The second half was all Black Bears. After gaining 299 yards in the first half, UNH had just 95 after halftime. A big part of that was the Maine secondary, which picked off Herion on four straight possessions in the second half.
“When you get four interceptions it’s hard not to score points,” said Fagnano, whose team finished with 416 total yards. “So, when they’re doing their job it makes our job a lot easier.”
Maine’s Kahzir Brown had two picks (and tipped a ball that led to another) while Shakur Smalls and Richard Carr each had one. The Black Bears’ second-half points came on a 30-yard touchdown pass to Miller and two more field goals from Messina.
“This is not the season I envisioned for us,” Lorden said. “I don’t think it’s the season anybody envisioned for us, but … there is life in this team and in this program. We’ve got some work to do, but we stayed together and that was probably the best thing that we saw.”