FOXBORO, Mass. — UMass and New Hampshire have long since built a solid football rivalry, and it will get taken up a notch Saturday at 3:30 p.m. when the two teams meet at Gillette Stadium.
They'll obviously experience the thrill of playing in an NFL stadium, but there are a number of New England kids on the two rosters who have grown up as Patriots fans. That will make the first annual Colonial Clash — which will mark the 73rd meeting between the teams — an even bigger rush.
"We're obviously very excited," UMass senior left guard Greg Niland said. "I was a huge Pats fan growing up, and my parents actually have season tickets, so I'm really excited for the Colonial Clash."
Last month, the Wildcats played Pittsburgh at Heinz Field — home of the Steelers — but that wasn't necessarily as significant for them as this weekend's game.
"It's not just that it’s a pro stadium; it's where it's at," UNH head coach Sean McDonnell said. "It's in Foxboro, and you’ve got 14, 15 kids from Massachusetts. You've got all New England [players]. These kids see this on TV every week. They're so excited about having the opportunity. We played in Heinz Field, and that was one thing. But you come to New England and come home to a place like Gillette, and it's really special for the kids. They’re excited."
UNH quarterback R.J. Toman, who is from California, will be at Gillette for his second event.
"I've only been here for a concert, but it should be a lot of fun to play here," Toman said. "It's an exciting atmosphere and it should be a great game."
The two teams practiced Friday at Gillette to get a better feel for the surroundings, and UMass head coach Kevin Morris could tell instantly his squad had a little extra hop in its step.
"You can’t ask for a better place to play," Morris said. "This is fantastic. It’s good to see the guys come out and see their eyes open up wide and then they start running around. A lot of the guys are big-time Patriot fans — local guys, excited to be running around in their favorite stadium."