ORONO, Maine — It is a football rivalry that spans 115 years and 107 games.
And for many years, the University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire played their traditional game on the final day of the regular season.
On Thursday, the Black Bears and the Wildcats meet for the second straight year in their season opener — a 7 p.m. contest on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium.
However, the trend will not continue as the Colonial Athletic Association has mandated that traditional rivalry games such as this one should be played at the end of the regular season.
“It deserves to be at the end of the season. College football around the country has been like that,” UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak said.
Veteran UNH coach Sean McDonnell agreed with that assessment.
Football Bowl Subdivision rivalry games including Alabama vs. Auburn, Michigan-Ohio State, Army-Navy, Oregon-Oregon State, Mississippi-Mississippi State and Florida-Florida State are perennially scheduled as regular-season finales.
“A Maine-New Hampshire game should be played in the cold. It should be dark at 3 o’clock,” Harasymiak said. “And it should be a CAA game that is worth even more than it is now.”
Thursday’s game will mark only the seventh time in 107 games that they have opened the season against each other. Before last season, UMaine and UNH played in the season finale in 16 of the previous 18 seasons.
The exceptions were 2010 and 2012.
This year, UMaine is not only playing New Hampshire in its season opener, but the contest will also be held prior to the arrival of the student body on the Orono campus.
That may potentially reduce the size of the crowd at Alfond Stadium, especially since UMaine has made a concerted effort in recent years to have its first-year students attend the Black Bears’ first home game as a group as a way of helping integrate the students into the university community.
Overall, UMaine has averaged 7,545 fans for its past four home openers.
The same dynamic did not appear to negatively affect last year’s UMaine-UNH opener at Wildcat Stadium in Durham, New Hampshire, when the Wildcats edged the Black Bears 24-23.
That game, played on Aug. 31, marked the first time in 25 years the two teams had met in the first game of the season. A crowd of 15,854 turned out for last year’s contest.
In supporting playing the contest to end the regular season, Harasymiak noted that if one of the teams has been eliminated from playoff contention, a victory over your archrival can provide the players with motivation for the next season.
New Hampshire has won the past eight meetings between the two programs.
“I’d love to be playing them at the end of the year,” McDonnell said.
UMaine quarterback Chris Ferguson said the timing of the game isn’t that crucial.
“It makes no difference to me when we play them,” he said. “I’m excited to play them first, but it’s cool either way.”
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