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Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: NCAAs — and the musket, too

DURHAM -- The University of New Hampshire football team wants to make a date for must-see television in its locker room for Sunday morning at 11:30.

In order for that to happen, the Wildcats must beat Maine, their longest and most bitter rival, in a game at high noon on Saturday at Cowell Stadium.

The 2013 season has come down to this for the Wildcats: Lose to the Black Bears and it's all over with a 6-5 record; win and they push their record to 7-4 overall and put things in the hands of an NCAA Selection Committee and hope that the group awards them one of 13 at-large berths in the FCS tournament that begins a week from Saturday.

If the Wildcats win on Saturday, they will gather in their locker room late on Sunday morning for an FCS Selection Show on ESPNU and then sweat things out until they find out if they are in the 24-team tournament.

If they get in — and chances appear pretty good that they will with a win — they might even get to play a first-round game next Saturday at home.

If they are sitting at 7-4 late on Saturday afternoon, UNH coach Sean McDonnell thinks his team will deserve a spot in the tournament.

"But that's me being me," McDonnell said during his weekly press conference on Wednesday.

None of the speculation will mean a thing if the Wildcats don't beat Maine, which has already claimed the Colonial Athletic Association regular season championship and is looking to close out the first perfect run through the league since James Madison did it in 2008, and grab the Brice-Cowell Musket and take it to back to Orono.

The flintlock rifle dates from the mid-1700s and has been awarded to the winner of the series since the late 1940s. In recent years — with Maine alum Jack Cosgrove and UNH alum McDonnell at the head of their programs — it has become an increasingly tangible and coveted piece of the rivalry.

UNH has won nine of the last 10 games in the series and thus has had the musket in its locker room for the bulk of the last decade.

Senior captain and running back Chris Setian talked on Wednesday about how much it hurt to watch Maine race across the field and retrieve the musket after the Black Bears beat UNH, 16-13 in overtime, in Orono in 2010.

"You want that musket in you locker room," said Manny Asam, a senior strong safety and another of the UNH captains. "You want to be able to see the musket every day in your locker room. We want to keep that musket here. We pride ourselves on making sure the musket stays here."

They take pride in their program's best-in-the-land, nine-year streak of making the playoffs, too, and with that streak comes pressure.

"As a senior, it is a lot of pressure," said Seamus O'Neill, the senior left tackle out of Manchester Central and the other UNH captain. "You don't want to be that senior class that ends the streak.

"All the seniors since I've been here talk about the tradition of going to the playoffs. We've got to keep that tradition going."

Maine is 10-1 overall and 7-0 in the CAA, ranked No. 4 in the country and has won its last seven games.

UNH is 6-4 and 5-2 and ranked No. 21 and has won five of its last six.

- - - - - - - -

JON GILLIES is at it again.

The Providence College goalie, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, has led his team to a 9-1-1 overall record and 5-1-0 mark in Hockey East to open the season.

UNH saw plenty of Gillies — whose father, Bruce, was a standout goalie at Bishop Brady High School and then UNH in the early 1980s — last year and will see a lot of him again this weekend.

The Wildcats play at Providence in the newly renovated Schneider Arena tonight and Saturday nights at 7.

The Friars are ranked No. 3 in the country and lead the Hockey East standings coming into the weekend. Prior to this season, the last time PC was ranked in the top-5 was 2001.

UNH is riding a five-game win streak and is at 6-5-1 overall and 4-2-0 in the league and got back into the national rankings at No. 20 this week.

The Wildcats lost a pair of regular-season games and tied one against Providence and Gillies last season. UNH then went to Schneider Arena for the Hockey East quarterfinals and was eliminated, two games to one.

Gillies has a .949 save percentage and 1.59 goals-against average.Casey DeSmith, UNH's junior goaltender from Rochester and a teammate of Gillies in junior hockey, has allowed two goals in his last four games to lower his goals-against to 1.88 and raise his save percentage to .930.

"Gillies is big, he's athletic and obviously he's a fierce competitor," UNH coach Dick Umile said. "He's not only big and takes up a lot of net, but he's quick and can make the athletic save, the quick, recovery save. You have to make him move, side to side, get shots and rebounds. We have to make sure we get someone at the net front screening, trying to take his eyes away. We've been a doing a better job with that the last two or three games."

The Wildcats are a point behind Boston College and two behind Providence in Hockey East.

- - - - - - --

UNH is the No. 1 seed and host team for the America East volleyball tournament that begins today at Lundholm Gymnasium.

The Wildcats, 18-12 overall and 12-2 in the league, face No. 4 Stony Brook, 16-16 and 9-5, in one semifinal tonight at 7. No. 2 UMBC (18-11, 9-5) plays No. 3 Albany (9-18, 9-5) in the first game at 4.

The winners meet for the title on Saturday at 4.

UNH beat Stony Brook, 3-2, on the road on Oct. 4 and at home, 3-0, on Nov. 10.

alessels@unionleader.com On Twitter @AllenLessels


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