UNE head coach Mike Lichten, far right, leads his team onto the field at Blue Storm Stadium for their team’s first-ever home game Saturday in Biddeford. (John Ewing/Portland Press Herald)
BIDDEFORD — Many fans started filtering into the stands at UNE Blue Storm Stadium 90 minutes before kickoff Saturday. Others wandered around the picnic area, sampling the fares of different food trucks.
Many traveled great distances to be here, including three men who graduated in 1968 from St. Francis College, which in the late 1970s became the University of New England.
Wally Riordan, Sam Sclafani and Buzz Tremblay weren’t going to miss the first home football game in UNE history, no matter how it turned out.
“We didn’t show up for the score,” said Tremblay, who lives in Boxborough, Massachusetts. “We showed up for the event, the historic first-time football game. I don’t think winning or losing is the important thing. It will be eventually, but not today.”
The Nor’easters, in their first varsity NCAA Division III season, lost their home opener 47-7 to Husson.
The Eagles intercepted five passes and gained over 600 yards, with freshman running back Solomon Hassen toaling 245 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
It was an impressive performance by Husson, which evened its record at 1-1. But the crowd of 2,042 that filled the stands — many sitting on steps between the sections — and lined the sidelines gave a long ovation for the Nor’easters when the game ended.
UNE had its moments, putting together nice drives and intercepting three passes. But it continued to make “young player mistakes,” said coach Mike Lichten, and had trouble maintaining consistency.
“I think they had moments when they played hard and with confidence, and then a lot of moments where there was uncertainty,” said Lichten.
“It was a big moment for them and now it’s behind us so hopefully we can get back to just playing football and stop worrying ‘first this’ and ‘first that.’”
Lichten realized this was “a special moment to open up the stadium and start something.” But now he wants to concentrate on getting better as a team, getting better in the red zone on both sides of the ball and protecting the football.
Husson coach Gabby Price said UNE was a tough opponent but his team was ready. The Eagles, who advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs last year, were coming off a 30-7 opening loss at Union.
“They played better last week than we did, I can tell you that,” said Price. “We did a great job getting ready this week. We were pretty serious … We just played a lot better this week. This week we looked fresher and sharper.”
It started early. After forcing a punt on UNE’s first series, Husson went 50 yards in four plays, with Cory Brandon passing 19 yards to Kyle Gaudet for a touchdown just 3:28 into the game.
A Jake Dobos interception then gave Husson the ball at UNE’s 41 with 4:43 left in the first period. On the next play, Hassen went untouched off the left side and it was 13-0.
The Eagles scored three times in the second quarter to take a 33-0 lead at the half. Brandon (17 of 25 for 223 yards and three touchdowns) threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Keyshaun Robinson (following an interception by freshman David Redmond of Westbrook); Hassen scored on a 1-yard run; and Brandon threw an 11-yard scoring pass to Ty Bassett.
UNE played better in the third quarter and got its lone touchdown, a 37-yard pass from Brian Peters to Ryan Gaboury. And the Nor’easters made a couple of impressive defensive stands.
But the difference between the programs — who will meet annually because Husson is joining the Commonwealth Coast Conference for football next fall — was certainly evident.
The Eagles were bigger, stronger and more consistent.
But for the Nor’easters, the opening game — and running onto their new blue-turfed field for the first time — always will be special.
“It was amazing,” said sophomore defensive back Joey Curit of Biddeford.
And they know it can get better.
“Too many turnovers, that’s on my part,” said Peters, who completed 26 of 41 passes for 268 yards. “But I think you saw we can compete with these guys. We’re close.”
“They’ve been waiting a long time for this game,” Gaboury said. “It’s too bad we couldn’t get the ‘W,’ but it’s great that we have the foundation around us.”
UNE quarterback Brian Peters tries to avoid Husson’s Kaleb Caron (44) on a keeper play. (John Ewing/Portland Press Herald)
UNE’s Owen Berry breaks up a pass intended for Husson’s Ty Bassett. (John Ewing/Portland Press Herald)
Husson College quarterback Cory Brandon takes a snap from center. (John Ewing/Portland Press Herald)
UNE’s Ryan Gaboury (6) is congratulated by teammates after scoring the Nor’easters only touchdown of the game. (John Ewing/Portland Press Herald)