New Hampshire Football Report

UNH ready for next challenge

DURHAM – It’s getting down to the nitty-gritty now.

When the Wildcats of the University of New Hampshire football team walked off “The Stripes” at the University of Central Arkansas last Saturday evening they did so as one of the final eight teams standing in the NCAA Division I FCS tournament. Sean McDonnell’s team will see what it can do about joining the FCS Final Four on Saturday.

The Wildcats ride a resurgent defense and an opportunistic offense into Saturday’s game at South Dakota State, scheduled for 3 p.m. on ESPN3.

They are 9-4 for the season. The Jackrabbits are 10-2 and went 6-2 in the Missouri Valley Conference, which is considered along with UNH’s Colonial Athletic Association to be the toughest league in the country.

South Dakota State is on a six-game winning streak that includes victories over powerhouses North Dakota State on Nov. 4 and over Illinois State the next Saturday. The last five wins in the streak have been against teams ranked No. 20 or better in the polls.

The Wildcat defense will be tested once again, this time by a balanced offense that features a quarterback who can run and throw and a pair of All American pass catchers, backed by an outstanding kicker with a well-known name.

The primary task, as always, is to stop the run game.

“If you can stop the run, contain the quarterback and then find a way to create some turnovers and put pressure on them, you’ve got a shot,” said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. “But you don’t have a shot if you don’t stop the run and you don’t contain the quarterback. Very similar in a lot of ways, the multiplicity in it, to what James Madison has between the run game, the RPOs (run/pass options) and straight drop backs.

This is a really good football team.”

James Madison, which played Weber State on Friday night, entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed and won last year’s national championship.

Junior Taryn Christion is the South Dakota State quarterback. He has passed for 31 touchdowns this season and run for another eight.

Senior wide receiver Jake Wienke has 49 catches for 720 yards and 13 touchdowns. Dallas Goedert, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound tight end, is projected to be a high pick in the next NFL draft and has 66 catches for 1,049 yards and six scores.

Sophomore Chase Vinatieri, nephew of Adam, has made his last nine field goal attempts, is 12 for 13 for the year and last week in a 37-22 win over Northern Iowa kicked three, including a 55-yarder.

Yes, the challenge is a major one.

“Everybody knows that we’ve got to answer the bell and every week we try to hold and give our team a chance to win and every week we keep doing it,” said senior defensive tackle Rick Holt. “Maybe some people will start to give us a little respect, but we’ve got to do it again this week.”

Holt led the defense with nine tackles, including two and a half sacks, in a 21-15 win at Central Arkansas.

The UNH offense meanwhile had a good news/bad news week.

The good was that junior starting quarterback Trevor Knight was cleared to play Thursday. He was knocked out of the Central Arkansas game and was in concussion protocol earlier in the week.

Redshirt freshman Christina Lupoli stepped in for Knight in the second period and led the Wildcats to the win and will be ready if called on again.

The bad news was that one of the team’s most effective offensive linemen, redshirt freshman Matt Mascia, was diagnosed with mononucleosis earlier in the week and is out. That will require another reshuffling of the offensive line.

Sophomore Noah Robison, who got his first start last week, will likely play again. He filled in for injured junior tackle Dayne Herron last week. Herron is expected to return to the lineup.

The bottom line is the ’Cats have advanced to the quarterfinals for the third time in the last five years. They won their quarterfinal games in 2013 and 2014 and played in the semifinals.

The 2013 team took a similar route to the semis that this team is attempting.

Those Wildcats needed a win in their final game of the regular season at Maine and got it. They finished 7-4 in the regular season and received an at-large bid to the tournament as did this year’s team.

They beat Lafayette at home in a first-round game: This year’s team beat Central Connecticut State at home in the first round.

The 2013 team went to Maine for a rematch in a second-round game and won again: This year’s team won at Central Arkansas. The Wildcats then won at Southeastern Louisiana to advance to the FCS semifinals for the first time.

UNH aims to match that result Saturday in Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings, S.D.


A football Watch Party is planned for the Whittemore Center on Saturday afternoon. Fans with tickets to Saturday night’s Army West Point-UNH men’s hockey game are encouraged to come early and watch the football game on the videoboard in the Whitt. Doors to the Whitt open at 2:30. . . . The UNH football team had never played in Central Arkansas before last Saturday. The Wildcats have never played in South Dakota. . . . The Wildcats have a 1-5 record against Missouri Valley Conference teams. They won a first-round game at Southern Illinois in 2008. They have lost three games to Northern Iowa, one to Illinois State and another to North Dakota State. . . . The UNH defense has allowed 17.4 points per game over its last seven contests. That includes games against the No.1, No. 7 and No 3 teams at the time of the game. . . . The defense has collected four turnovers in each of the last two games. . . . Knight has completed 273 of his 437 passes for 3,197 yards with 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions. . . . Junior receiver Neil O’Connor has 93 catches for 1,358 yards and 10 scores. . . . Junior linebacker Quinlen Dean leads the Wildcats with 118 tackles. . . . Holt leads with nine sacks.


Allen Lessels is the UNH Insider. Follow him on Twitter: @unhinsider.

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