ORONO — The University of Massachusetts football team is heading to Harold Alfond Stadium for the last time.

Today’s 12:30 p.m. game is important for the University of Maine. A win keeps the Black Bears (7-2, 5-1) in contention for the Colonial Athletic Association championship while likely nailing down an NCAA playoff berth.

But behind the importance of the game is the nostalgia of it.

UMass is moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) next season. The Minutemen will play in the Mid-American Conference.

Maine usually plays one FBS team a year but never in Orono. So today marks the end of a rivalry after 58 games.

“It’s always been our biggest-challenge game,” Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said. “Wins over them became special.”

UMass has dominated the series, 41-15-1.

UMass’ defection continues the dwindling number of New England opponents for Maine. Through the years, Maine competed against seven other New England schools in its football conference.

By 2013, when Rhode Island leaves the CAA for the Northeast Conference, New Hampshire and Maine will be the only New England teams remaining in the conference. Former New England rivals Vermont, Boston University and Northeastern dropped football, while Connecticut moved up to the Big East.

The Minutemen’s exodus means the loss of another rivalry and more expensive road trips out of the region.

“It’s kind of scary, that stat (about New England football),” Cosgrove said. “It’s a challenge. But that’s a conversation for another day.”

For now, Cosgrove has to be concerned with UMass, which appears better than its 5-4 record (3-3 CAA).

“A very talented football team,” Cosgrove said, referring to running back Jonathan Hernandez (99 yards rushing last week) and receiver Julian Talley (11 catches last week for 155 yards).

But UMass lost, 35-17, to struggling Villanova last week, mainly because of six turnovers, including three interceptions and a fumble by quarterback Brandon Hill.

Cosgrove suspects that UMass might try to keep the ball on the ground, after Towson was so successful against the Black Bears last week with 334 rushing yards in a 40-30 win.

That Towson game had another negative result as top receiver Maurice McDonald broke his foot in the second half and is out for the season.

Leading running back Pushaun Brown, who missed last week with a thigh injury, is doubtful for today.

Maine still has quarterback Warren Smith, who is second in the league with 256 passing yards per game, and freshman tailback David Hood, who filled in for Brown with 89 rushing yards last week.

Maine is in a three-way, first-place tie with New Hampshire and Towson. If the Black Bears win today, they will be in a two-way tie, since UNH is at Towson at 3:30 p.m. 7-2, 3:30 p.m. today.


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