New Hampshire Football Report

UNH leaning on defense

DURHAM – The University of New Hampshire football team’s defense had itself some fun Saturday afternoon – the unit is beginning to make a nice habit of that – and as a result the Wildcats are moving on to their next challenge in the NCAA Division I FCS tournament.

It’s all about survive and advance come playoff time.

The defense, led by the linebackers Quinlen Dean and Jared Kuehl thrived and pitched a 14-0 shutout over Central Connecticut State on Saturday afternoon in Wildcat Stadium to send UNH on to the second round of the playoffs.

The Wildcats improved to 8-4 and will take on Central Arkansas in Conway, Ark., on Saturday at 3 p.m. and the challenge will amp up against the Bears, the No. 4 seed in the tournament.

The Bears lost their first game of the season at Kansas State, 55-19. They ran the table from there with 10 straight wins to grab the Southland Conference championship.

“If we keep playing like we’re playing on defense, it’s going to give us a chance to win every game,” UNH defensive tackle Rick Holt said.

The Wildcats have certainly been cranking it up on defense.

The shutout was UNH’s first since a 17-0 win over Richmond in 2010. It was the team’s second since coach Sean McDonnell took over as head coach for the 1999 season. The other was a 56-0 triumph over Iona on Nov. 12, 2005.

The Wildcat defense has allowed an average of 11.6 points a game the last five contests.

“Once you get out there for a while, it’s just so much fun,” said Kuehl, a junior. “You keep on sending them back to the sideline. It’s not like you want the offense to do bad, but you’re looking forward to the next time you’re on the field when you’re doing so good. And our defense has been on a really hot streak lately. It’s been a great time going out there every time. You’re just looking forward to it, honestly.”

The defense was itching for its first chance Saturday.

After a 20-play UNH drive that took nearly 10 minutes and ended with a missed field goal, Central Connecticut got the ball and quickly went down the field. The Blue Devils had a first and goal from the UNH 6.

Kuehl stopped Cameron Nash for a loss of a yard. On the next play, junior defensive end Jae’Wuan Horton deflected a Tanner Kingsley pass up and Kuehl intercepted it.

Central Connecticut forced a punt. Two plays later, Dean intercepted another Kingsley pass.

Four plays later after that, UNH quarterback Trevor Knight lofted a pass toward the end zone that redshirt freshman Nick Lorden made a nice play to go up and get for a 41-yard touchdown. Senior Morgan Ellman kicked the conversion and that was the only scoring until sophomore Evan Gray punched in a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:04 left in the game.

The defense had set the tone and on a day when the offense struggled to get in the end zone, had led the way.

Central Connecticut was at a disadvantage with junior starting quarterback Jacob Dolegala suspended for the game.

“I think the kids are playing real hard,” UNH defensive coordinator John Lyons said. “I think our tackling has improved. And I think they really are dialed into trying to figure out what the other team is doing. It was hard today because of the whole thing with their quarterback. We weren’t sure what to expect and there were a lot of different things. We were just able to stay the course. Try not to give big plays and get it thrown over our head. They hit a couple, but for the most part we did a great job keeping them out of the end zone.”

Now it’s on to Central Arkansas.

“I think we’ve got to improve in the kicking game a little bit,” McDonnell said. “Got some work to do. But, and here’s the big but, we’re going to Arkansas next Saturday and we’re one of 16 teams playing in the country so that’s a big huge.”

The UNH-Central Arkansas winner will advance to the FCS quarterfinals and play on Dec. 8 or Dec. 9 against the winner of next Saturday’s Northern Iowa at So. Dakota State game.


  • The Bears were 10-1 overall and 9-0 in the Southland Conference. Their signature win was a 41-30 triumph over Sam Houston State at home on Sept. 30. Sam Houston was ranked No. 3 at the time and is in the tournament as the No. 6 seed. That was Sam Houston’s only loss this season.
  • Central Arkansas also had league wins over Southeastern Louisiana, 38-6, and McNeese, 47-17.
  • The Bears average 37.6 points per game. They allow 17.2. Their offense puts up 468.2 yards a game, 207.8 rushing and 260 passing.
  • Kierre Crossley, a 5-foot-8 and 168-pound redshirt freshman, has 702 yards rushing.
  • Sophomore Carlos Blackman, 6-foot-1 and 240, has 702 yards.
  • Senior quarterback Hayden Hildebrand, 6-foot-3 and 192 pounds, has completed 180 of his 269 passes for 2,768 yards and 27 touchdowns with six interceptions.
  • As a team, the Bears have 37 quarterback sacks. They have allowed six sacks.
  • Sophomore defensive lineman Chris Terrell has 11 sacks and has forced three fumbles.
  • Senior defensive lineman Eric Jackson has 10 sacks.
  • Senior cornerback Tremon Smith has five interceptions.
  • Senior Brandon Cox has 38 catches for 766 yards and six scores.
  • Senior Roman Gordon has 32 catches for 580 yards and seven TDs.
  • Last year, in the playoffs for the first time since 2012, the Bears won their first-round game over Illinois State, 31-24. They lost at Eastern Washington, 31-14, in the second round.
  • Steve Campbell is in his fourth season as Central Arkansas coach.
  • UNH is one of Colonial Athletic Association teams remaining in the playoffs. Defending FCS champion James Madison is 11-0 overall and 8-0 in the league and is the No. 1 seed in the tournament. The Dukes had a bye in the first round and play CAA rival Stony Brook at home on Saturday. Stony Brook beat Lehigh, 59-29, at home in the first round Saturday. Stony Brook and James Madison did not play each other this season.
  • The fourth CAA team selected for the tournament, Elon, lost its first-round game at home against Furman, 28-27, on Saturday.Allen Lessels is the UNH Insider. Follow him on Twitter: @UNHInsider.

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