New Hampshire Football Report

UNH bracing for air assault

DURHAM – Peter Pujals passed the football and then passed it again and again. Then, for good measure, he passed it some more.

The outstanding quarterback for Holy Cross was on a roll and when he finished last year’s game against the University of New Hampshire he had completed 42 of his 64 passes for three touchdowns and more than 400 yards of offense.

The good news for UNH in the opening game in Wildcat Stadium last season was that the Wildcats were able to come from behind for a 39-28 win over the Crusaders. More good news: Pujals was a senior and UNH had seen the last of him.

Or so the Wildcats thought.

Two games after the loss to UNH, Pujals suffered a season-ending injury in a game against Dartmouth. The quarterback had played as a true freshman and as a result of the injury received a medical redshirt giving him another year of eligibility.

The No. 9 Wildcats are headed to Worcester, Mass., to face Pujals and Holy Cross again on Saturday at Fitton Field (1 p.m.). Saturday’s challenge at Holy Cross revolves around Pujals.

“After the game last year I remember thinking how smart, poised and in control of that offense he is,” UNH defensive coordinator John Lyons said. “It just appears that he really has a very, very good understanding of what they’re doing. I think he has a lot of responsibility in being able to change plays. I think he’s responsible for an awful lot. He’s almost like having a coach out there playing quarterback. He’s very, very talented. I was very impressed with him last year.”

Pujals, who is a Holy Cross captain for the fourth consecutive year, hasn’t done anything to make Lyons feel differently going into this game. He led the Crusaders to a 20-0 win at Bucknell last week without throwing a touchdown pass.

The week before, he completed 33 of 56 passes for 358 yards and a score as Holy Cross nearly beat its FBS opponent, UConn. The Crusaders led 20-14 after three quarters, but UConn rallied for a 27-20 win.

UNH is 2-0 for the first time since the 2009 season after stopping Maine, 24-23, in its opener and then stunning Georgia Southern, 22-12, Saturday in Birmingham, Ala., in a game that was moved because of Hurricane Irma.

The Wildcats transitioned this week from preparing for a team that loves to run in Georgia Southern to one that wants to pass in Holy Cross and Pujals.

“He’s a really skilled quarterback that we need to keep a close eye on,” said UNH sophomore linebacker Michael Balsamo. “We need to keep our eyes in check. They run a lot of RPOs – run, pass options. If we take a slight step to the right, he’s going to take us to the left and he’s going to scorch us down the field like he did last year on a couple of plays. We definitely need to keep our eyes in check in Saturday’s game.”

UNH was playing with a very young defensive backfield last year and the goal is to have more success in the secondary this time around.

“We definitely have a good understanding of what he can do,” Balsamo said. “He can make tough throws. He can make NFL caliber throws. We saw that last year and watching the film for his first two games he can still do it and that’s what our main focus is on.”

Last year against Holy Cross, two UNH interceptions late in the fourth quarter — the first including a 28-yard return for a score by Casey DeAndrade and the second by freshman Prince Smith, Jr., — helped seal the victory.

The Wildcats have collected a pair of turnovers in each of their first two games this season. They’ll be looking for more, and to get some pressure on Pujals, on Saturday.

“It’s going to be a big challenge,” Lyons said. “You have to be able to get after him, but you also have to cover these guys. It’s hard to get there. As much as you can, you’ve got to try and disrupt his rhythm, and make him a little bit uncomfortable back there, whether you get to him or hit him or something. He’s good.”


UNH junior wide receiver Neil O’Connor received the New England Football Writers’ Association Gold Helmet Award for his 11 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia Southern. He has 1,067 receiving yards in his career. . . . Junior quarterback Trevor Knight has completed 32 of his 52 passes (61.5 percent) for 287 yards and four touchdowns. He has been intercepted once. . . . Sophomore Evan Gray has rushed 31 times for 151 yards and one score. . . . Sophomore linebacker Quinlen Dean leads UNH with 16 tackles. . . . Senior defensive tackle Rick Holt has 12 tackles and a team-leading two of the team’s six quarterback sacks.

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