New Hampshire Football Report

UNH knows the drill

unhinsiderThey’ve been down this road before.

In fact, it’s a road much traveled by the University of New Hampshire football team in its march to a nation’s-best streak of 12 straight appearances in the NCAA FCS Division I playoffs.

UNH takes a 4-3 overall record into Saturday’s game at Towson University (3:30 p.m., televised on Comcast SportsNet).

The Wildcats are down to four games remaining in the regular season and may have to run the table from here to run their playoff streak to a lucky 13.

UNH returns home to play Stony Brook next Saturday, has the following week off and then plays Albany at home on Nov. 12. The regular season ends with a game at Maine on Nov. 19.

The Wildcats and other teams have earned invitations to the FCS tournament with four losses, but at that point things get a little dicey and the decision is in the hands of a committee.

Better by far is to put up an 8-3 season, continue to contend for the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season championship and thus eliminate most of the suspense on Selection Sunday, Nov. 20.

The Wildcats know well the drill.

“Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, we’ve been in this situation before,” said senior cornerback Casey DeAndrade during a media conference Wednesday. “You don’t ever want to get in this situation, but luckily for us we’ve been here before and it’s just win the next one. We’re not thinking about the ones down the road, we’re thinking about Saturday. We’re thinking about even Wednesday, being 1-0 today. Being 1-0 today helps us be 1-0 tomorrow and so on and so forth all the way to Saturday. I think we just take it one day at a time and hopefully have success on Saturday.”

DeAndrade’s redshirt freshman year the Wildcats were 1-3 and then 4-4 and won three straight games to get into the playoffs and then made a run to the FCS semifinal round. Sophomore year they lost their first game and won 12 straight and made it to the semifinals again. Last year, UNH was 3-4 and won four straight games to earn another playoff berth.

Head coach Sean McDonnell is focused squarely on Saturday and Towson, a team that has given his group fits in their most recent meetings. Towson has won the last three games between the teams, the most recent by a 44-28 score in Durham in 2013.

“We’ve got to win the next one,” McDonnell said. “I know this. Nothing good happens if we lose this weekend, in that big picture. As I told the guys, it’s nothing about looking forward to the next four games, this and that. We’ve got to go to Towson and win a football game to get to 5-3 and 4-1 in the league. Then you still have a chance to win the league, still have a chance to make the playoffs. All that. The biggest thing in my mind right now is can we win the next one? Can we get to 4-1 in the league and 5-3? If we do that, you live for another day.”

Towson is 1-5 overall and 0-3 in the league and has lost two of its last three games – to Richmond and Dartmouth – by a field goal, and the other to Stony Brook, 27-20.

UNH is coming off a wild 42-39 loss to No. 6 James Madison at home on Saturday.

The Wildcats trailed 42-12 with exactly 10 minutes to play after a fumbled kickoff led to an easy JMU touchdown.

From there, the Wildcats rallied fiercely behind senior backup quarterback Adam Riese – who came on for injured sophomore Trevor Knight – and nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback.

For the game, Knight and Riese combined for 512 passing yards, the most the Wildcats have put up since Ricky Santos and the offense compiled 598 in a 51-40 win over Villanova on Oct. 2, 2004. Santos passed for an individual school record 538 yards and six touchdowns that day. David Ball caught 11 of the passes for a school record 284 yards and three scores.

Against James Madison, Knight completed 31 of his 49 passes for 314 yards and a score, and Riese 13 of his 21 for 198 yards and two TDs. The completion, attempt and yardage totals were career highs for Knight and the yardage total was a career-best for Riese. Knight could have gone back into Saturday’s game and is good to go for Towson, McDonnell said.

Sophomore receiver Neil O’Connor had a career-high 10 catches for a career-best 192 yards, redshirt freshman Malik Love had 12 for a career-best 127 yards and senior Jordan Powell nine for 92 yards against JMU.

“The fourth quarter was pretty sweet,” said senior tackle Andrew Lauderdale. “We finally got rhythm with our passing game. We can work off that this week.”

Defensively, the Wildcats will look to slow a Towson offense that averages 157 yards rushing and 237 passing a game for 394 total yards.

Freshman Deshaun Wethington carried 27 times for 145 yards and a score last week in a 20-17 loss at Dartmouth.

Sophomore Ellis Knudson is the 6-foot-2, 241-pound Towson quarterback. He’s completed 86 of his 160 passes for 1,199 yards with six touchdowns and seven interceptions. His brother, Hayden, played safety at UNH through last season.

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