ORONO — New Hampshire’s football team started the year with two goals. On a frigid Saturday at Alfond Stadium, despite the best efforts of a terrific Maine defense, the Wildcats achieved them both.

The top-ranked team in the nation overcame a season-high six turnovers to outslug the Black Bears 20-12 before an announced crowd of 4,023, then lingered on the field long afterward with the Brice-Cowell Musket still in their grasp.

“Before the season starts we set our goals and one of them was a CAA championship, beat Maine, get that Brice-Cowell Musket back. And to achieve both of them in the same night, it was tremendous,” said defensive end Cody Muller, who had nine tackles and two of his team’s five sacks.

“I don’t think (playing poorly) really matters right now. I think we’re going to enjoy what we did, what we accomplished.”

New Hampshire (10-1, 8-0 Colonial Athletic Association) was the first team to finish undefeated in league play since 2008. The Wildcats beat Maine (5-6, 4-4) for a fifth consecutive time and 12th in the past 13 meetings.

But it wasn’t easy, thanks to a Black Bear defense that intercepted Sean Goldrich three times and recovered another three fumbles. New Hampshire had never turned the ball over more than three times in a game this season, and its point total matched a season low set in the opening week in its lone loss, 54-20 at Toledo.

“I think we got them off track,” Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove said. “I thought our defense was outstanding, forced them into situations where they had to make NFL plays on third down, and they did. That’s why they’re the best team in our conference, the best team in the country.”

Maine scored all 12 points off turnovers. But the offense was held to a season-low 179 yards and went 30 minutes between first downs at one point. Cabrinni Goncalves intercepted Goldrich on his first play and Maine settled for a Sean Decloux 31-yard field goal. The Wildcats fumbled away the ensuing kickoff and this time the Black Bears could get no points. So the lead was only 3-0 after one quarter.

New Hampshire scored two touchdowns in the second to take a 14-3 halftime lead, then returned the opening kickoff of the second half 85 yards to the Maine 10. The Black Bears held the Wildcats to four yards on three plays and Christian Breda missed a 23-yard field goal.

“You’re sitting there in the third quarter after the kickoff return, you’re thinking you’re going to go in and get a score and feel better about yourself, then all of the sudden, bang, great stop again by Maine. They were just resilient through the whole quarter, do everything they’ve got to do,” New Hampshire Coach Sean McDonnell said.

Maine got a 28-yard field goal from Decloux to cut it to 14-6, but New Hampshire came back with a 79-yard drive, completing two clutch third-down passes to R.J. Harris to lead 20-6.

After Randy Samuels sacked Goldrich and forced a fumble that Darius Greene recovered with 9:45 remaining, Maine’s offense came to life.

Belcher completed a third-and-19 pass to Jeremy Salmon for 23 yards, Jerickson Fedrick reeled off a 16-yard run and later converted a tough fourth-and-1 near the goal line. Belcher plunged into the end zone to pull the Black Bears within 20-12 and revive upset thoughts. Maine has never beaten a No. 1 team.

But the Black Bears didn’t get the ball back until 2:40 was left at their 1. After a couple of first downs, Belcher went down hard while throwing an incompletion. He hobbled back but his next pass was into heavy traffic and intercepted by Nick Cefalo.

“I’ve never come close to winning a game with six turnovers,” McDonnell said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.