ORONO — The flintlock rifle is approaching 290 years old, and if it is to return to the state where Ebenezer Nutting of Falmouth fashioned it long before the American Revolution, a bearded guy from New Jersey is going to have to spend a lot of time leaning over a football Saturday afternoon.

“You realize over the years how important this game is and how much it means,” said Garret Williamson, scratching his scruffy chin, as he prepares for the 100th football meeting between the state universities of northern New England neighbors Maine and New Hampshire. “It’s the toughest game of the year every year. We’re similar teams. We both play hard. The last five years it’s been (like) a fist-fight, every game.”

At stake is pride, bragging rights and possession for the next 12 months of the Brice-Cowell Musket, named after former Maine coach Fred Brice and former UNH coach William Cowell.

At 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association, New Hampshire is ranked 14th in the country among Football Championship Subdivision schools and appears on its way to a remarkable ninth consecutive NCAA Division I FCS playoff appearance, which would extend what already is the longest streak in the nation.

The Wildcats have beaten Maine in eight of their past nine contests, and the Black Bears (2-4, 1-4) will be decided underdogs, even at Alfond Stadium.

Still, Williamson said records mean little in this rivalry. Last year’s game was decided by a field goal. Same thing in 2010, when Maine won in overtime. Ditto for 2009, when New Hampshire won 27-24 in regulation. In 2008 the winning margin was a whopping four points.

“It doesn’t matter who’s good or who’s bad when it comes down to this game,” Williamson said. “Both teams elevate their play and really get after it.”

The Wildcats bring a 48-43-8 lead in the series. They also bring a high-powered offense that, in four CAA games, has lit up the scoreboard with point totals of 61, 34, 44 and 44.

“People say, ‘Well, you’ve got to keep their offense off the field,’ ” said Maine Head Coach Jack Cosgrove. “Yeah, we do. But we’re not going to keep their offense off the field if we don’t execute ours.”

A successful running attack, with David Hood and Rickey Stevens Jr. following the blocking of Williamson his interior line brethren, would go a long way toward keeping the game close.

“Without a doubt, that’s the million-dollar question: Can you run the football?” Cosgrove said. “Obviously, we need to be able to run our offense. We have to execute, because it’s not just going to be, run the football. We’ve got to be able to throw it, too.”

In three CAA games, Maine’s offense has produced six touchdowns, four through the air and two from runs by quarterback Marcus Wasilewski. The transition from veteran Warren Smith to Wasilewski, a junior whose previous collegiate experience had been limited to special teams, continues to progress.

“It’s a different voice, a different rhythm back there,” said Williamson, who seems to have solved problems related to the quarterback-center exchange from earlier in the season. “He does things a little bit different.”

In order to reach the seven-victory plateau necessary for consideration to the 16-team NCAA tournament, the Black Bears must win each of their remaining five games, a stretch that includes No. 2 James Madison two weeks after New Hampshire.

“It’s a must win every week for the rest of the season,” Williamson said, “to put us in a position to be successful and, potentially, the post-season, which we’re not thinking about right now.”

No, their thoughts are consumed with their immediate neighbors to the south. It’s homecoming weekend. New Hampshire is coming to town. The future and the past don’t matter, not with Ebenezer Nutting’s old rifle up for grabs.

“They’re a lot like we are,” said New Hampshire Head Coach Sean McDonnell. “We’re all blue collar and there ain’t a whole lot of bells and whistles. It doesn’t really matter when or where. It could be on the turnpike on 95 and I think we’d have a good game.

“This is something to look forward to every year. It’s circled on the schedule.”



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