Wildcat gridders kick off tonight
DURHAM - The 2011 season ended abruptly and painfully early last December in the mountains of Montana, some 2,400 miles from home, when a deflected conversion kick bounced off an upright and away.
Tonight, the University of New Hampshire football team officially turns the page.
The Wildcats are in Worcester, Mass., to take on Holy Cross to open the 2012 campaign.
'We're absolutely excited,' said Mike MacArthur, the junior kicker and punter out of North Hampton and Winnacunnet High School in Hampton. 'Every year it feels like you can't believe it's here. It's awesome. Exciting.'
It was MacArthur's extra point kick that went awry and UNH's season ended with a 26-25 loss to Montana State on Dec. 3.
'It's a total fresh start in my mind,' MacArthur said.
Chris Zarkoskie, a senior offensive lineman and captain, feels the same.
'It was definitely tough to fly all the way out to Montana and spend all that time there and lose by a point at the very end,' Zarkoskie said. 'It hurts. It's hurt since it happened and it hasn't stopped. But this is a great opportunity to get it to stop and we definitely want to go down there and play well against Holy Cross and get the ball rolling for this season.'
The Wildcats finished 8-4 last year and made the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the eighth straight season, which is the longest such streak in the country.
Along the way last year, UNH knocked off Holy Cross, 39-32, on Oct. 1 in Durham in the first meeting between the teams since 1984.
Last year, both the Crusaders and Wildcats were led by highly productive seniors, UNH by Kevin Decker and Holy Cross by Ryan Taggart.
Tonight, each sends out a quarterback who did not take a snap last season.
UNH is going with Sean Goldrich, who practiced with the scout team and sat out the games as a redshirt. He's believed to be the first redshirt freshman to start a season opener for the Wildcats.
'We've got to hope that our young quarterback makes great reads, puts it in the hands of the right people and in the right places and hangs onto the football,' said UNH coach Sean McDonnell.
Goldrich edged out Andy Vailas, a sophomore out of Bedford and Bishop Guertin of Nashua, for the starting job.
Kevin Watson, a 6-foot-4 and 230-pound senior, is expected to start for Holy Cross. Watson did not appear in a game last year, but played in seven contests as a backup in 2010.
He will be trying to get the ball to a bunch of returning wide receivers, led by senior Gerald Mistretta. Mistretta had 60 catches for 723 yards and six touchdowns last year. He caught six passes for 136 yards and a score against UNH.
The Wildcat defense must also deal with Eddie Houghton, a 5-foot-11 and 220-pound senior tailback.
'He's a very physical kid,' McDonnell said. 'At the end of the year they were really doing some good things with him. He's got a low pad level and runs pretty well.'
Houghton started four games for the Crusaders and played in 10 and picked up 509 yards, averaging 5.9 yards a carry.
Defensively, the Crusaders allowed 324.4 yards of offense a game to UNH's 427.5 allowed last season and 20 points to UNH's 31.6.
UNH's needed a 60-yard touchdown pass from Decker to Justin Mello with one minute and ten seconds left to counter a late Holy Cross touchdown and win last October.
The Crusaders did not give up more than 24 points in a game other than in the UNH contest.
The Wildcats return a bunch of offensive linemen, but their depth at the position will be tested right out of the gate.
Junior Ricky Archer is the returning starter at right guard, but will not be playing. He's out indefinitely for academic reasons, McDonnell said.
Senior Mickey DiLima moved over from right tackle to take Archer's spot and sophomore Rob Bowman moves into the starting lineup at right guard.
The key for running backs Nico Steriti, Chris Setian and Jimmy Owens and receivers such as R.J. Harris and Joey Orlando - along with Goldrich - is ball security, McDonnell said.
'It's imperative that we do a great job when we're running with the football and after we catch it, that we keep it in our hands,' McDonnell said.
St. Anselm opens tonight
St. Anselm also opens its season tonight.
The Hawks, looking to rebound from a 1-9 overall record and 1-7 mark in the Northeast-10, are at Kutztown for a 6 p.m. game. St. Anselm lost its opener to Kutztown State, 56-30, last season.
Steve Cuipa, a sophomore out of Merrimack and Bishop Guertin of Nashua, is expected get the start at quarterback for coach Pat Murphy's team. Junior Ray Doucette, a transfer from Bryant University, will likely back Cuipa up.
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Allen Lessels may be reached at email@example.com..