Was it the start of a rivalry?
Perhaps it’s too soon to tell, but the University of New England’s 31-21 victory over Husson at the Winkin Complex on Saturday suggests the inevitability of an even more competitive environment ahead for the two Maine schools in the Commonwealth Coast Football ranks.
Such battles will include recruiting wars as the respective coaching staffs scour Maine, New England and beyond for top talent to ensure upward mobility within the conference.
There’s also the annual on-field battle for bragging rights, and in this first CCF encounter between the Pine Tree State programs — and Husson’s first home game against an in-state foe since resuming a varsity schedule in 2003 — the second-year Nor’easters earned that prize by outscoring Husson 21-7 after intermission.
“Coach [Mike Lichten] talks to us about wanting this to be a rivalry in the future and I think winning today helped that cause,” said UNE quarterback Brian Peters, whose team avenged a 47-7 loss to Husson last fall in a non-conference meeting on the Nor’easters blue artificial turf in Biddeford.
“I hope we can play for a trophy at some point.”
Peters, who began the day leading the league with 341 passing yards per game, directed a more balanced attack against Husson that produced 414 total yards — 223 through the air and 191 on the ground.
“We were going to play defense to stop the pass,” Husson coach Nat Clark said. “We thought we had to stop the pass and the big plays and what we did was give them a shorter box and they ran the football on us.”
The Nor’easters, coming off a bye week,not only kept Husson’s defense and a homecoming weekend crowd of 2,300 guessing, they displayed considerable depth at wide receiver and running back. Peters (17-for-27 passing) connected with eight different receivers and was among three UNE rushers who gained at least 46 yards.
“They were running an odd front with three down and two linebackers in the box so we thought we could control by running the ball and we did,” Peters said. “Then when they went four down and less in coverage we were able to take those big shots with the pass and those paid off as well.”
Senior quarterback David Morrison paced Husson’s offense, completing 25 of 39 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns. Shawn Noel Jr. rushed for 134 yards on 32 carries for the Eagles (2-4 overall, 2-1 CCF) while Lisbon’s Tyler Halls had a game-high nine catches for 78 yards.
Husson led 14-7 on TD passes of 12 yards and 1 yard from Morrison to Keyshaun Robinson, the second score coming just 36.9 seconds before intermission.
But an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Eagles forced them to kick off back at their own 20, and a squib kick recovered by UNE at the Husson 47 led to a 38-yard field goal by Kevin Heintz as time expired to narrow the gap to 14-10.
UNE (3-3 overall, 1-2 CCF) took the lead on its second possession after intermission. Peters hit D.J. James with a 66-yard touchdown strike to give the Nor’easters a 17-14 edge with 4:53 left in the third quarter.
Two possessions later, UNE struck again. This time it was a 75-yard drive capped off by a 3-yard run by Peters that made it 24-14 early in the fourth period.
Husson got a 4-yard touchdown pass from Morrison to tight end Aidan Hogan to draw within 24-21 with 7:30 left, but UNE not only ran the next 5:25 off the clock but put the game away on Peters’ 1-yard sneak with 2:05 remaining.
The schedule doesn’t get easier next Saturday when the Eagles host Endicott College, which improved to 5-1 overall, 3-0 in the conference, after Saturday’s 61-34 win over Curry.
“I told the guys at the beginning of the year that we were going to a great league and we were going to play some great games each and every week,” Clark said. “Now we’ve just got to learn to play these games and what it takes to win.”