New Hampshire Football Report

UNH will end season at URI

DURHAM – They successfully sent their seniors out of Wildcat Stadium on a winning note with a 24-10 triumph over the University at Albany last Saturday.

Now the University of New Hampshire football team will look to put the final touches on a impressive and promising finish to what has been a tough year.

The Wildcats seek a fourth straight win to close the season when they take on Rhode Island on Saturday (noon) in Meade Stadium in East Kingston, R.I.

One of the ironies of New Hampshire’s remarkable run of a nation’s-best 14 straight years in the NCAA Division I FCS tournament that will officially end when the 2018 playoff field is announced on Sunday is this: The Wildcats have not ended their season with a win since 2003.

Head coach Sean McDonnell referenced the 2003 season in his weekly press conference Wednesday as one that was somewhat similar to this year’s. The Wildcats were 2-6 in the middle of October in 2003 and won three of their last four games – including a 47-27 win over Maine in the finale – to leave everyone with a good taste and in help pave the way for what was to come over the next decade and a half.

This year’s group aims to take the same taste and feeling into the offseason.

“It would be fabulous,” McDonnell said. “As with many things, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. It would help erase the taste that was not very sweet in the months of September and October.”

The seniors traditionally give short speeches at the end of practice during the last week of the regular season and share their thoughts on their experiences as Wildcats.

“Two of the kids who talked Tuesday night talked about how these last three weeks have been the best three weeks they’ve had in a long time around UNH football,” McDonnell said. “It’s been a rewarding end to a tough, tough year for them.”

UNH is 4-6 and Rhode Island is 5-5 and looking for its first winning season since 2001. Both teams are 3-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association.

The Wildcats were 1-6 this year after a 38-14 loss at home to Delaware on Oct. 20. They then won at Villanova, 34-0, at home against No. 3 James Madison, 35-24, and over Albany.

The offensive line has evolved through the season and has kept improving: it will lose one starter in Cam Smith, a graduate student, and several players, including juniors Matt Matulis and Jeff Carter, have stepped up and gained valuable experience.

The defense has picked up its game and not only stopped the run better and better, but has become much more disruptive. The Wildcats had 14 sacks through the first seven games. They have 16 – three from junior linebacker Quinlen Dean – in the past three games.

The defense has also contributed points with three touchdowns – two on interception returns by sophomore safety Evan Horn – in the last two weeks and four in the last four games.

The turnover numbers on both sides of the ball offer a sharp contrast.

In their first seven games, the Wildcats lost 15 turnovers and gained 10. In the last three, UNH has not had a turnover and the defense has eight takeaways. In short, across the board, the Wildcats have been much more consistently effective.

At Rhode Island, the Wildcats face a team whose season has gone the opposite from their own. The Rams won their opener at Delaware, 21-19, and took four of their first five games. They then lost at home to Maine, 38-36, on a last-second field goal and have won only one of their last five games. The four losses have all been to ranked teams.

They lost at No. 8 Elon, 24-21, two weeks ago. UNH lost at Elon, 30-9, back in late September.

URI is a pass-heavy offense led by senior quarterback Jajuan Lawson and junior receiver Aaron Parker. Lawson, who missed the month of October with a foot injury, has completed 117 of his 171 passes (68.4 percent) for 1,612 yards and 16 touchdowns with five interceptions. Parker leads the league with 10 TD catches and 93.5 receiving yards a game.

So, no, the season hasn’t turned out as planned, but the Wildcats are seeking to make the most of the game they have left, with a longer eye on the offseason ahead and 2019 season.

“There’s always wouldas, couldas, shouldas, even in winning,” Carter said. “But you can’t look so much in the past; you can get caught up in it. You can learn from the past. But the next game, that’s what I’m keeping my focus on. . . . We’ll have almost all of our offensive linemen returning next year and this game will be huge for getting game experience.”


  • Saturday’s is the 92nd meeting between UNH and Rhode Island, which ranks second to the Maine series on UNH’s list of longest-running rivalries.
  • Senior Neil O’Connor is 22 yards away from tying David Gamble (1990-93) for the No. 3 spot on UNH’s career receiving yards list. O’Connor has 3,050 yards.
  • The win over Albany was the 98th CAA victory in McDonnell’s 20 seasons.
  • It moved him into third place on the list of all-time wins in the league.
  • William & Mary’s Jimmye Laycock, who closes out his 39th and final season Saturday with a home game against Richmond, is No. 2 on the list with 112 wins. Former Villanova coach Andy Talley tops the list at 142.

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