New Hampshire Football Report

UNH needs bounce-back effort

DURHAM – No rest for the Wildcats. No time for licking wounds.

The No. 25 University of New Hampshire football team took a hit in last week’s loss at Pittsburgh of the FBS, but there was little time to worry about that one.

James Madison, ranked No. 3 in the FCS  and a perennial Colonial Athletic Association power, comes to Durham for Homecoming on Saturday (3:30 p.m., NBC Sports Boston).

The Wildcats are 3-1 overall and atop the early CAA standings at 2-0. James Madison has rolled to a 3-0 overall start, is 1-0 in the league and had last Saturday off.

“The mood’s been good this week,” said sophomore linebacker Bryce Shaw, who had 10 tackles against Pittsburgh. “It was almost like immediately when we hit the locker room at Pitt it was, ‘It’s JMU time. It’s on to the next one.’ Nobody wanted to dwell on last week. Obviously, we were pretty mad. We’re excited we get another chance to play ball.”

James Madison presents another major challenge. The Dukes have become one of the elite FCS teams in the country. They regularly qualify for the FCS tournament, have advanced to the championship game three times in the last five years and won the national title in 2016.

Last spring, they lost to Sam Houston State, 38-35, in the semifinals and the Bearkats went on to win the title.

“Another really good football team,” said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. “Probably one of the three or four best teams in FCS football. Seven straight years in the playoffs. They do it on both sides of the ball and they do it extremely well.”

The Dukes have rolled to wins over Morehead State, 68-10, Maine, 55-7, and at No. 9 Weber State, 37-24, to open the season. They are averaging 53.3 points a game to lead the nation and put up 519 yards of offense a game, 220 rushing and 299 passing.

“They’re going to run the football,” McDonnell said. “They’re a really good, well-balanced offense. They’re just about 50-50 run-pass and they do it off all sorts of formations so if our eyes aren’t where they need to be and we’re not in our gaps, they will gash us.”

JMU’s featured running back, Percy Agyei-Obese, has not played this year because of a hamstring injury, but is expected to play on Saturday.

Senior quarterback Cole Johnson has completed 63 of his 85 passes for 843 yards and 11 touchdowns with no interceptions.

“He’s a very good decision maker,” McDonnell said. “He’s very good in the pocket and has great presence. He doesn’t panic and does a great job getting the ball out quickly to the perimeter. He’s a very good football player.”

The Dukes defense is allowing 234 total yards a game, just 32 yards on the ground, to lead the CAA in both categories.

UNH sophomore Bret Edwards has passed for eight touchdowns and had his first pass intercepted against Pittsburgh. Sophomore running back Carlos Washington, Jr. broke a 70-yard run against Pittsburgh to set up a 4-yard TD pass from Edwards to junior Sean Coyne.

“We’ve got to mix it,” McDonnell sad. “We’ve got to be able to run and pass it. … We’ve got to do our RPOs (run/pass option plays). We’ve got to get the launch point in four or five different places with Bret because they come after you from all different angles.”

The Wildcats are looking forward to the test, said senior center and captain Matt Mascia.

“You’d rather have something like this after last week,” Mascia said. “You have no choice. You have to move fully forward. We have a very good football team coming in and we need all hands on deck right now. . . . The focus is all on the future. We know what JMU brings. They’re good from all angles. They’re the frontrunners in the CAA for how many years now. We know the challenge at hand.”

JMU coach Curt Cignetti noted in his weekly CAA media session that he’s been stressing to his team how dangerous UNH is, especially at home and for Homecoming, and how the Wildcats will be fired up and raring to go after their 77-7 loss at Pittsburgh.

He also mentioned the team’s last visit to Durham in 2018, the year before he took over the program. James Madison was 6-1 and ranked No. 3 in the country. UNH was having a rare rough year and was 2-5.

The Wildcats forced six turnovers that day and scored a pair of defensive touchdowns – one on a 75-yard interception return by current grad student and safety Evan Horn – and won 35-24.

“It’s going to be a battle at Durham,” Shaw said. “Everyone’s pretty excited at practice. Tuesday is usually a tough day for practice. Everyone has class and you’re just coming off the weekend. We were flying around. I think the energy’s there and we’ve just got to carry it into Saturday.”


  • Ethan Ratke kicked three field goals against Weber State and now has an FCS record 78 for his career.
  • Antwane Wells Jr. caught two TD passes from Cole Johnson against Weber State. He has five touchdown catches this season.
  • JMU has scored points on defense in each of its first three games with a safety against Morehead State, pick six against Maine and an 88-yard fumble return vs. Weber State.
  • James Madison won the last meeting against UNH, 54-16, in 2019 in Harrisonburg, Va.
  • Agyei-Obese ran for 130 yards and three touchdowns in that game.


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