For many who follow small-college football in Maine, it has been a question longing for an answer for 15 years.
When would Husson University of Bangor and Maine Maritime Academy of Castine, only 45 miles apart, start playing on the gridiron?
There is finally an answer.
Athletic directors Frank Pergolizzi of Husson and Steve Peed of MMA have found common ground and scheduled a home-and-home football series between the two schools in 2021 and 2022.
“The easiest and simplest thing is that we both became aware that we had the same open dates down the road, in ’21 and ’22 in particular, and once we realized we had the same dates available it became a no-brainer,” Pergolizzi said.
Under the two-year plan, Maine Maritime will host Husson Sept. 11, 2021, at Ritchie Field in Castine, then Husson will play MMA Sept. 10, 2022, at the Dr. John W. Winkin Sports Complex in Bangor.
The schools already square off in several other sports including basketball, soccer and lacrosse, as members of the North Atlantic Conference.
And their road conference schedules in football — Husson in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference, and Maine Maritime in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference — almost always involve similarly long bus rides and overnight stays, as they do for nonleague games.
“We found these mutual dates, which led to this two-year agreement,” Peed said. “The timing was finally right in terms of where we all are in terms of scheduling, and league play is very much a settled thing for both of us at this point.”
As recently as 2015, Peed and Pergolizzi said in a BDN story that they did not forsee a football relationship developing between the schools in the near future. In announcing a new conference affiliation, Peed cited MMA’s desire at that time to compete against schools that have a similar mission. Pergolizzi expressed Husson’s desire to get the Mariners on the schedule.
In the meantime, they have worked things out.
“Frank and I had a number of conversations two or three years ago and I felt like we were getting close but he needed an answer before I could really give it to him. That was what it came down to, and we ended up putting a pin in it,” Peed said. “I don’t think he was happy about that, and I don’t think I was necessarily happy about it either.”
A meeting between the two at a North Atlantic Conference retreat last March sparked a new discussion about football, and it wasn’t long before the tone grew much more optimistic.
“Steve asked me what my open dates looked like, so I pulled out my trusty football schedule composite, which I always have with me because football scheduling is something I work on almost every day in some form,” Pergolizzi said.
“Within a couple of days we were pretty much all set to go.”
The in-state scene
Husson and Maine Maritime Academy are two of only six NCAA Division III football programs in Maine.
Bates College of Lewiston, Bowdoin College of Brunswick and Colby College of Waterville all compete in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, a 10-team league with a closed, nine-game schedule each season.
It appears that Husson, MMA and the University of New England in Biddeford, which will play its first varsity season this fall, are drawing closer, in part, out of geographic convenience.
Husson visits UNE Sept. 8 for a nonconference game as the teams begin what will become an annual rivalry in 2019 as Husson joins the Nor’easters in Commonwealth Coast Conference Football.
In addition to its two-game series against Husson, MMA has agreed to home-and-home dates against UNE in 2022 and 2023, Peed said.
“Our coaches would say that having the ability to sleep in your own bed for an away game is something they’ve never experienced until this point in time,” Pergolizzi said of the in-state games. “Going to an away game has meant getting on a bus and driving a minimum of four hours and then staying in a hotel and coming back on Saturday night at midnight.”
Those games also will save money. Pergolizzi estimated an average Husson road trip to a Massachusetts opponent costs approximately $15,000, while a trip to Maine Maritime would cost $3,000 or less with primary expenses limited to transportation and postgame meals.
“We’re all trying to be efficient with our budgets,” he said. “This will be a positive thing for our budget.”
The bigger football picture
Peed and Pergolizzi see great potential for their budding football relationship beyond the first two meetings but have plenty of time to wait out any additional conference changes or other logistical issues.
“Whether it’s Maine Maritime or somebody else, one of the best ways to schedule future games is to schedule somebody you’re already playing against,” Pergolizzi said. “I think at some point we would have that conversation, and I’m certainly not going to schedule any games on that date going into ’23 or ’24 without checking with MMA. I expect that Steve would do the same.”
Both believe Husson-MMA games could boost interest in football around the state, particularly since the the final 2017 MMA and Husson rosters included a combined 78 Maine high school products.
“One of the things I talked about with Frank at the outset was that anything we can do to support the growth of football in Maine is good,” Peed said. “When I think about our relationship with Husson in other sports, our kids grew up playing high school sports against each other, they grew up playing AAU sports against each other, and this is a chance to continue that sort of relationship.
“If we can do the same thing in football and give these kids an opportunity to play against each other, and if that helps develop some meaningful rivalries within the state and provides a little excitement for fans at the same time, I think that’s a good thing for everybody.”
Pergolizzi agrees with that forecast.
“I think this will very quickly will become a pretty intense rivalry,” he said.
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