ORONO — It will be the end of an era Saturday for the University of Maine football team.
The Black Bears will play the University of Massachusetts for the final time before the Minutemen move up to the Bowl Championship Subdivision ranks as a member of the Mid-American Conference.
However, it also could mark a new beginning as coach Jack Cosgrove’s UMaine team tries to secure an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff spot.
The game highlights a four-game schedule of football contests involving Maine colleges.
MASSACHUSETTS Minutemen (5-4) at Maine Black Bears (7-2), 12:30 p.m., Alfond Stadium, Orono: The 13th-ranked Bears look to rebound after last week’s 40-30 loss at the hands of Towson. A win today would virtually guarantee UMaine a spot in the postseason.
A loss, on the other hand, would put the Bears in a virtual must-win situation heading into next week’s regular-season finale at New Hampshire.
UMass is not eligible for the CAA title or for postseason play because of its transition to BCS play.
Today’s game also marks the final home contest for UMaine’s 16 seniors, who are playing to earn the program’s first postseason bid since 2008.
“It’s been a privilege to be around them,” Cosgrove said of the seniors. “I think they’ve really invested in their lives here as student-athletes and young men in our program. They’re very instrumental in the progess we’ve made this year.”
Looking at the big picture, UMass has dominated this series (41-15-1),which began in 1909. Playing the last league game between the two is tough on Cosgrove.
“It’s something for me that has a significant history to it,” Cosgrove said. “I played against some great players from UMass and coached against some outstanding players and coaches.”
UMaine, which surrendered more than 300 rushing yards to Towson, expects to be challenged in the run game by the Minutemen. UMass features senior tailback Jonathan Hernandez, the league’s No. 3 rusher with 954 yards on 215 carries and 11 touchdowns.
Hernandez left last week’s loss to Villanova with an arm injury, but he did practice this week. UMass’ other backs have combined for only 260 rushing yards.
Quarterback Kellen Pagel is 133-for-231 passing (.576) good for 1,489 yards, 8 TDs and 7 interceptions. He missed last week’s game with an injury, so Brandon Hill (49-for-84, 598 yds., 3 TDs, 3 INTs) may get the nod.
The Minutemen feature a dangerous trio of receivers in Julian Talley (48 receptions, 595 yds., 4 TDs), Jesse Julmiste (37-467-3) and Emil Igwenagu (34-341-3).
The UMaine defense looks to safeties Jerron McMillian (71 tackles, 1 INT) and Trevor Coston (66-5), along with linebacker Vinson Givans (70-2), to keep UMass in check.
“They’re very talented offensively,” Cosgrove said. “If they keep the turnovers out of their game, this is a team that can put up points.”
The same goes for UMaine, which committed three turnovers in the loss to Towson.
The Bears are hoping senior tailback Pushaun Brown (147-723-8) will be able to overcome the leg injury that kept him out last week. If he can’t go, redshirt freshman David Hood (53-203-4) gets the nod.
UMaine also continues to work around injuries in the pass game as junior wideout Maurice McDonald (58-591-5) is out with an injury to his right foot.
That means senior QB Warren Smith (200-for-304, 2,259 yds., 16 TDs, 6 INTs) will be looking for sophomore tight end Justin Perillo (36-370-3), senior slot receiver Derek Session (28-339-2) and redshirt freshman wide receiver Arthur Williams (22-297-2).
The Minutemen rank second in CAA rushing defense in league games (112.2 ypg), but are No. 10 in pass defense, giving up 246.5 yards per game and 15 TDs through the air.
Linebackers Tyler Holmes (93 tackles) and Perry McIntyre (83) and safety Darren Thellen (50 tackles, 5 INTs) have been the defensive leaders for UMass.
ANNA MARIA Amcats (1-8) at Husson Eagles (0-9), 1 p.m., Winkin Complex, Bangor: Though reported otherwise here last week, today marks the season finale for the struggling Eagles.
Husson should have its best opportunity of the campaign to end its skid against the Amcats, who are coming off their only win of the season — a 35-33 victory over Becker.
The Eagles showed more offensive potential in their loss to Castleton State. Junior QB Kash Keezer rushed for a career-high 129 yards, Ryan Dorso netted 111 and Andrew Anderson added 89.
It will be the last collegiate game for Husson seniors Jack Hersom of Sidney, Chris Dalecki of South Berwick, Kyle Vanidestine (injured) of Bangor, Obed Rinvil, Jonathan Lange, Brandon Kenney of Winthrop and Tyler Doiron.
Today’s other games: Colby (3-4) at Bowdoin (3-4), 12:30 p.m.; Bates (3-4) at Hamilton (2-5), noon