ORONO – Maine football head coach Joe Harsymiak is abundantly clear.
“It’s the No. 1 goal of the program, is to beat New Hampshire.”
Enter the UMaine locker room though, and it’s even more apparent. Bold letters sit atop the entrance way, with that motto towering over every player that walks under it. To the Maine Black Bears, taking down the Wildcats reigns supreme over everything else.
“It’s everything,” redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Ferguson said. “That’s kind of our No. 1 goal every year, is what Coach H says. Beat UNH.”
Maine was set up for a playoff run last season, but would falter during the final stretch of the year. A late loss to UNH on a field goal would spell demise for the Black Bears, as the Wildcats celebrated taking home the Brice-Cowell musket in front of a stunned crowd in Orono. Framed in the entrance of the locker room is a picture of them celebrating, a reminder of what was.
“It kind of felt like another game. But after losing and seeing them on our M with that musket, and seeing that picture on our locker room every day, just gives you…It’s an undescribable [sic] feeling,” Ferguson said.
“It left us with a bitter taste in our mouths, but also for us to be hungry all offseason,” linebacker Sterling Sheffield said. “That we know the team that we lost to to go to the playoffs is the first team we have all season.”
Beating New Hampshire won’t be easy, but the Black Bears understand a win could open up possibilities that could steamroll into even greater accomplishments.
“From there, it goes beat the north and beat the CAA,” Ferguson said. “To have it our first game, we can accomplish our goal and we can check it off right off the bat.”
But looking too far past UNH would be a mistake, Harsymiak says, and Thursday’s season-opener will be a true test of who is ready to be considered among the hunters at UMaine.
“This is the most important game that they’ve ever played in,” he said. “This is Division I, and there’s a lot of pressure with it. And the guys that do it end up being great players for us, and the guys that can’t, we’ve got to figure it out.”