New Hampshire Football Report

UNH has little wiggle room

RICHMOND, Va. – Not much of anything went right for the No. 17 University of New Hampshire football team for the opening 29-plus minutes of the 30-minute first half at Robins Stadium late Saturday afternoon on the campus of the University of Richmond. Then things picked up and got VERY interesting.

The rest of the entertaining contest set up a pivotal two-game dash to the end of the regular season that starts with Saturday’s final home game against Rhode Island in Wildcat Stadium at 1 p.m. for Senior Day.

“The next two games are playoff games now,” said grad student captain and defensive tackle Niko Kvietkus outside the UNH locker room on Saturday. “That’s how we’re going to look at it.”

That’s how the Wildcats must approach things. They have a 6-3 overall record and are 5-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Picking up two more wins and getting to 8-3 overall and 7-1 in the league will earn UNH at least a share of the league championship and with little doubt – probably no doubt – its first berth in the NCAA FCS Division I tournament since 2017.

Anything less? Things would get very dicey if the Wildcats split their final two and finished at 7-4. In that case, they would have to worry about games that are out of their control and the selection committee’s decisions.

The road is not easy. No. 23 Rhode Island is 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the CAA and in the same position as UNH, in desperate need of a win Saturday and another the following week against UAlbany.

Maine is 2-7 overall and 2-4 in the CAA and loves nothing more than messing up UNH football plans in the biggest rivalry for both teams.

The Wildcats aim to build off the wild ride that was the last 31 minutes of Saturday’s game at No. 14 Richmond.

“The resilience of this team is the biggest takeaway,” said senior receiver and captain Brian Espanet. “It stinks to lose, but the resilience we take away from it starts from the top down. I’m so proud of the guys. It could serve us well. We’ve just got to learn from it.”

Richmond shut down the UNH offense early and scored a pair of touchdowns in the last five minutes of the first half to open a 24-0 lead. The final Spider score came with 24 seconds left in the half and things were not looking good for the Wildcats.

UNH’s defensive players returned to the sidelines and there was some grumbling.

Kvietkus, senior safety and captain Pop Bush and junior safety Max Oxendine were among those who took issue with what they were hearing and seeing.

“Heads started to hang,” Kvietkus said. “Myself, Ox, Pop have been around a long time. We’ve been in these situations before where guys have got to step up. You look at the older guys to kind of rally the troops. Heads started to hang and we wanted to squash that as soon as we saw it.”

Meanwhile, on the field, with those 24 seconds left before halftime and starting at it own 43-yard line after a Richmond penalty on the kickoff, the offense did its share to rally the troops.

On the last play of the half, 46 yards from the end zone, sophomore quarterback Max Brosmer threw long to speedy receiver Heron Maurisseau, who outfought a defender for the ball as he rolled in the end zone.

“That gave us that shot of life,” Espanet said. “That was the difference maker. We kept saying it in the first half. All we needed was a spark to get rolling.”

The Wildcats got another lift during halftime.

UNH head coach Rick Santos spoke a little. Then Nyeem Wartman-White, the assistant coach in charge of the defensive line, took a turn.

“He had a really good message for the guys,” Kvietkus said. “It was supposed to be for the defense, but the entire team ended up hearing it.”

Added Espanet: “Nyeem Wartman is probably 80 percent responsible for our comeback. He just spoke from the heart. He got us all fired up. He killed it.”

Kvietkus smiled but didn’t offer a lot of details. “It was pretty , ‘Don’t stop believing.’ That’s how I’m going to put it. It was a little tailored to the defense, but that’s the gist of it.”

Brosmer hit redshirt freshman Joey Corcoran for a 32-yard touchdown pass two and a half minutes into the third quarter, capitalizing on a Bryce Shaw interception. Richmond answered that score.

Then Dylan Laube took the kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, UNH’s first kick return for a score since Dalton Crossan had a 93-yarder at UAlbany on Nov. 16, 2013.

It was the fourth Wildcat 100-yard return since 1973. R.J. Harvey had the most recent against Maine on Nov. 17, 2001. Andre Garron had one against Bucknell on Oct. 8, 1983 and Dan Losano one against Dartmouth on Sept. 29, 1973.

Richmond answered that TD, too, and led 37-21 with 5:46 left in the third period. Laube’s 4-yard TD run made it 37-27 to close the third period scoring.

Brosmer found Maurisseau for a 1-yard TD pass and the lead was down to 37-34 with 11:06 left in the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats had three more possessions, but could not score again. They fumbled the first time, came up short when they went for it on a 4th-and-5 and then had one last chance, down 40-34, when they got the ball back with 1:40 to play on their own 31-yard line.

They worked their way down the field as they had at the end of the first half. With seconds to play, Brosmer took a long shot into the end zone from the Richmond 35. Four UNH receivers and seven or eight Spider defenders converged in the end zone. Espanet got a hand on the ball, but it fell incomplete.

“I went up to grab it and kind of got mauled from every which way,” he said.

Brosmer batted .500 for the day in Hail Marys.

There were plenty of second-half highlights, from Laube’s kickoff return to Maurisseau’s second TD reception, a team-leading fifth of the year.

For the game, Brosmer completed 23 of his 36 passes for 277 yards and three scores. Oxendine was everywhere on defense and matched his career high with 12 tackles, and sophomore defensive end Josiah Silver had three tackles for loss, including UNH’s only quarterback sack, giving him 8.5 for the season.

“The guys battled,” Santos said. “There are positives you can pull from it. They fought all the way to the end and gave us a chance to win. You simply can’t start that slow in a game like this that has championship implications.”

It’s right back to work in preparation for Rhode Island.

“The kids love being coached and I think they’re going to take to it tomorrow,” Santos said. “I think the second half shows that we’re moving forward as a program and that the guys are starting to believe in their abilities, which is good.”


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