ORONO, Maine — Bundle up, Black Bear fans.
For the first time in its 121-year history, the University of Maine football team will play a home game in December.
UMaine added another item to its list of season firsts Sunday when it earned the No. 5 national seed for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
With that distinction, the Colonial Athletic Association champion Black Bears (10-2) receive a first-round playoff bye and will play an undetermined opponent in a Dec. 7 home game at Alfond Stadium.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s team, which earned the CAA’s automatic berth in the 24-team FCS playoff field, faces the winner of Saturday’s first-round matchup between archrival New Hampshire (7-4) and Patriot League winner Lafayette (5-6).
Kickoff for the Dec. 7 second-round contest on Morse Field is scheduled for 2 p.m. It will be broadcast on ESPN3, the network’s Internet feed.
UMaine is negotiating with UMass Lowell to move the scheduled Dec. 7 men’s hockey to Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m.
“For all of the people here from the university, we’re very grateful for them sticking their necks out, and probably their pocket books as well, to take advantage of the fact that we have a unique opportunity, something that’s never happened on this campus before and something that should be very exciting,” Cosgrove said of efforts to secure a home playoff game or games.
On Nov. 18, UMaine submitted a bid to host all four rounds. The minimum bid is $30,000 for each of the first two rounds.
New Hampshire beat UMaine 24-3 on Saturday in Durham, N.H., to secure its at-large berth. It marks the Wildcats’ 10th consecutive postseason appearance.
UMaine players, coaches, staff and fans gathered in the Maine Marketplace at the Memorial Union to watch the selection show on three large screens. The announcement of the Bears’ side of the bracket was met first with groans, which quickly turned to cheers, as the players realized they could have another crack at the Wildcats.
“I think it’s a great way to kind of put the loss behind us. That’s what we needed to do,” said senior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski. “And seeing that ‘5’ coming in next to our name gives us a little bit of confidence back. We’re just happy to be where we are.”
UMaine, which was ranked No. 10 in The Sports Network’s Top 25 released Sunday, was among only three CAA teams chosen for the playoffs, joining at-large picks in No. 7 national seed Towson (10-2) and UNH.
This is UMaine’s second postseason berth in three seasons and its third in the last six years as it also advanced in 2008 and 2011. The Black Bears also made the playoffs in 1987, 2001 and 2002.
Sunday’s selection show helped ease the sting of Saturday’s loss and put the focus back on the team’s preparations for the next game in two weeks.
“Obviously, yesterday’s disappointment kind of put a little bit of a smudge on everything,” said Cosgrove, who admitted he was chatting with UMaine men’s hockey coach Red Gendron when the Bears’ seeding was revealed.
“It was good to see the [No.] 5 [seed] and see the respect that we got from winning the CAA, Cosgrove added.
Some Black Bear players quietly admitted they would like to have another crack at New Hampshire after a motivating loss.
“We didn’t really expect to see them [in our bracket] because UNH didn’t know where they would stand,” Wasilewski said, explaining the collective groan let out by team members at seeing the potential matchup.
“We need to get that chip back on our shoulder and continue this new season of the playoffs how we started this one, and earn our spot every week,” he added.
The Bears know they can’t make any assumptions and have to re-focus in the wake of only their second loss of the season.
“[Saturday’s] loss definitely humbled us,” said senior safety Jamal Clay. “We know now that we’re in the playoffs. It’s a one-game season and the only thing we can control is that one game. In the playoffs, if you lose, you’re done.”
Redshirt freshman linebacker Chris Mulumba, who burst onto the scene this season as UMaine’s leading tackler, is happy to be in the playoffs.
“I feel really special this year,” Mulumba said. “I feel grateful and thankful that we’re going to play in December.”
Even though he grew up and played football in Montreal, he is hoping for an unseasonably mild day on Dec. 7.
“I don’t like the winter,” Mulumba said of the potentially cold conditions.
Tickets for the game go on sale at the Black Bear ticket office on Monday morning.