FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Gillette Stadium has been the proving ground for three New England Patriots NFL championship teams.
On Saturday afternoon, the University of Maine hopes to make a little history of its own when it plays traditional rival Massachusetts on the Patriots’ home turf.
Black Bear players who grew up in Massachusetts are particularly amped up for the opportunity to take on a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent in their own backyard.
“I think I’m more excited about the venue than anything,” said UMaine senior offensive tackle Joe Hook, who hails from Westfield, Mass. “It’s about where we’re playing and the crowd that’s going to be around. That’s what really makes a game.”
UMaine has 16 Massachusetts players on its roster, most of whom are members of the travel squad.
Maine Black Bears (1-0) vs. Massachusetts Minutemen (0-1), 2 p.m., Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.: Coach Jack Cosgrove’s team plays the first of two FBS opponents in UMass, which made the jump from 63 scholarships to 85 last season. UMaine’s only win against an FBS foe came at Mississippi State in 2004.
UMass is paying UMaine a $160,000 guarantee for the game.
The Minutemen have dominated the all-time series to the tune of 41-16-1, but UMaine won the last meeting, in 2011, by a 32-21 score.
“Our history with UMass is not a great one, win and loss wise,” said Cosgrove, whose parents will have only a 10-minute drive from their home in Sharon to Foxborough.
He conceded that historically UMass has presented a tough challenge on the field. Now, the disparity is increasing.
“I think as a blanket statement, they’re going to be bigger than we are and they’re going to be faster than we are,” Cosgrove said. “They may look at us and consider us small. I think they’re going to dwarf some of our guys in big matchups.”
For example, the Minutemen’s offensive line averages 6-foot-5, 301 pounds, while the Black Bears’ defensive front averages 6-2, 266 pounds.
UMaine, seeking its fourth straight win coming off a season-opening 23-6 victory at Norfolk State, knows it faces a formidable UMass squad. The Minutemen suffered a 45-0 drubbing at the hands of No. 23 Wisconsin last Saturday.
Cosgrove pointed out that UMass played 31 redshirt freshmen or sophomores against the Badgers.
The Bears’ defense, headed by end Mike Cole, linebacker Cabrinna Goncalves and safety Mike Mangiarelli, will try to contain an offense that features quarterback Mike Wegzyn (9-for-23 passing, 73 yards, 1 interception), tailback Stacey Bedell (19 carries, 70 yds.) and wideout Derk Beck (6 catches, 37 yds.).
UMaine looks for better efficiency out of senior QB Marcus Wasilewski (15-for-28, 209 yds., 1 TD, 1 INT), whose key targets include wideout Derrick Johnson (8 receptions, 82 yds.) and tight end Justin Perillo, who did not have a catch in the opener.
The Bears’ ground game features tailbacks Rickey Stevens (10 carries, 46 yds, TD) and Zedric Joseph (12-46-0). They’ll try to find holes in a UMass defense that is led by safety Devin Brown (9 tackles, 1 INT), linebacker Stanley Andre (7 tackles) and cornerback Randall Jette (6 tackles).
Goncalves, who made a stellar starting debut last week with 13 tackles, lives in Tauton, 25 minutes from Foxborough.
“I used to watch the high school football games there, but I never thought I’d get a chance to play there, so it feels good,” he said.
BEAR TRACKS: Saturday’s game is available on the radio (103.9 FM Bangor) and on ESPN3, the network’s Internet broadcast site. Time Warner Cable subscribers can access the game on the computer by using their account log-on and password.
Husson Eagles (0-0) at Hartwick Hawks (0-0), 1 p.m., Wright Stadium, Oneonta, N.Y.: The Eagles return to the field with renewed optimism with the return of head coach Jonathan “Gabby” Price.
Husson, of the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference, is coming off a 2-8 season that included a 55-14 loss to the Hawks in Bangor. The Eagles are looking to QB Ryan Stroud of Dover-Foxcroft, defensive end Ernest Wiggins, wide receiver Josiah Hartley of Bangor and tailback Byron Jackson to set the tone.
Hartwick, which plays in the Empire 8 Conference, went 3-7 last season.