The Brice-Cowell musket has not spent much time in Orono over the past 16 years.
The flintlock rifle, awarded to the winner of the annual football game between the universities of Maine and New Hampshire, had resided in Durham, New Hampshire, for seven years until the Black Bears thumped the Wildcats 35-7 in the 2018 season opener in Orono.
UNH had held onto the musket for seven more years before UMaine triumphed in 2010.
But there is more at stake on Saturday for the Black Bears, who are in search of their first win in Durham since 2001.
A Football Championship Subdivision playoff spot also is possible for UMaine, which must win to keep its hopes alive. UNH has seemingly been eliminated by losing its past two games.
Head coach Nick Charlton said he is confident UMaine will earn an at-large playoff berth if it can register a fifth straight victory.
UMaine Black Bears (6-5) vs. New Hampshire Wildcats (5-5), 1p.m. Saturday, Wildcat Stadium, Durham, New Hampshire: UNH (4-3) has won 15 of the past 17 meetings.
During UMaine’s four-game win streak, the Black Bears (4-3 CAA) have averaged 36.5 points and 417.5 yards per game. Freshman quarterback Joe Fagnano has completed 68.4 percent of his passes for 1,042 yards and 10 TDs.
“This is probably going to be the biggest game I have ever played in,” Fagnano said. “But it doesn’t change anything. I go into every game preparing like it’s a championship week game.”
UNH has won its past six home games dating back to last season and has beaten UMaine eight straight times in Durham.
The Wildcats have one of the CAA’s best defenses, allowing the second fewest points per game (21.1) and the third fewest yards (356.9). However, the Wildcats are last among the 12 teams in points scored (19.4) and 10th in total offense (332.3 ypg).
UMaine’s offense ranks third in yards per game (435.5) and fourth in points (31.4), and it boasts the best passing attack in the league (306.8 ypg).
The Wildcats also have a true freshman quarterback in Max Brosmer, who has completed 57.4 percent of his passes and is averaging 172.6 ypg. He has thrown 10 TD passes but he has been intercepted 11 times.
Fagnano has completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 1,652 yards and 16 touchdowns with three INTs.
“They have a good defense that doesn’t give up a lot of points. I’m excited,” Fagnano said.
UNH interim head coach Ricky Santos said the rivalry game will erase the lingering disappointment from his team’s 24-17 loss to Albany that eliminated them from playoff contention.
“And we want to see our seniors off the right way,” Santos said.
UNH has two quality running backs in Evan Gray (94 carries, 592 yds.) and Carlos Washington Jr. (132-591), and the top receivers are Malik Love (37 catches, 427 yds.) and Dylan Laube (26-397). Washington Jr. also has 26 catches for 159 yards.
For UMaine, wide receiver Earnest Edwards ranks third in the FCS in all-purpose yards (175.9). Jaquan Blair (57 rec., 748 yds.), Edwards (45-1,027) and Devin Young (40-594) are Fagnano’s prime targets.
Joe Fitzpatrick (111-for-510) and Emmanuel Reed (104-428) are the leading rushers.
Linebackers Taji Lowe (89 tackles), Adrian Otero (79) and Whitaker (59 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 9 sacks) headline the UMaine defense.
UMaine is without injured linebacker Jaron Grayer and nose tackle Skylar Bowman, while cornerback Katley Joseph, wide receiver Andre Miller and tight end Shawn Bowman are questionable.
Safeties Pop Bush (65 tackles) and Evan Horn (59 tackles, four interceptions) and cornerback Prince Smith Jr. (58, 3 INTs) anchor the UNH defense.