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Allan Lessel's Notebooko: UNH's Matt Kaplan is turning heads

October 04. 2012 11:06PM
UNH's Matt Kaplan, in blue, fights his way through blocks against Delaware last Saturday. Kaplan, a sophomore from Franklin, is becoming a defensive force. (JAY REITER/Union Leader)

DURHAM - Quarterback Andy Vailas and cornerback Dontra Peters collected honors for their roles in New Hampshire's decisive 34-14 win over then-No. 8-ranked Delaware last Saturday in Cowell Stadium.

Matt Kaplan, a sophomore defensive tackle from Franklin, had a big game, too.

He picked up most of his accolades in the film room.

'When you watch him play, as hard as he does, it's really something fun to watch on tape,' said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. 'It's something for us to use as a teaching tool for the rest of the people. It's a very good teaching tool.'

Vailas, a sophomore out of Bedford and Bishop Guertin of Nashua, was named the Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Week after completing 23 of his 36 passes for 336 yards and a couple of scores and leading an offense that was unstoppable in the second half.

He will start his fourth straight game on Saturday at 3:30 when No. 14 UNH takes on winless Georgia State at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Peters had a pair of interceptions and three tackles against Delaware and was named the league's Defensive Player of the Week.

Kaplan had a career-high seven tackles, including a sack, and helped the defense rebound from a tough loss at Old Dominion and shut down the Blue Hens.

'He's very strong and very powerful,' said defensive coordinator John Lyons. 'We talk about straining to the ball on every play and the kid does that. There are snaps on film where we go, 'Oh wow, if we had 11 guys doing this every snap, we'd be really good.''

Through five games, Kaplan leads the defensive linemen in tackles with 22 and is tied for sixth on the team. He also leads the team with three sacks.

Last year, Kaplan, listed at 6-foot-1 and 291 pounds, played in 11 games and had 15 tackles with a sack and a half.

He represented Franklin in the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl Game and came to UNH as a recruited walk-on. At Franklin, he was runnerup in the wrestling Meet of Champions as a senior while competing for his father, Jeff.

'In my experience, the kids who were good wrestlers usually are very good football players,' Lyons said. 'Matt's not really tall, but he understands leverage. And obviously that's a very demanding sport and a tough sport. It kind of shows in how he plays football.'

Kaplan earned a partial scholarship early on at UNH and that's been bumped up to a half, McDonnell said.

He got his chance to start this year when an injury slowed junior Sean McCann early and he's taking full advantage.

'If he continues to play the way he is, he's going to be a starter the rest of his career,' McDonnell said.

'He's a hard-nosed kid and a very physical kid,' Lyons said. 'I would say he's probably our most improved player on the defensive side of the ball this year.'

REDSHIRT FRESHMAN Sean Goldrich, who started UNH's first two games at quarterback and hurt his throwing shoulder on the second play against Minnesota, has been practicing and was available to play last week against Delaware. He and senior James Brady will back up Vailas on Saturday.

'Until Sean Goldrich is 100 percent and has the ability to do what he was doing, we're not going to approach that,' said McDonnell when talk about starting quarterbacks and noting that Vailas will start on Saturday. 'He can play, but he's not 100 percent yet. I don't know how long that's going to take.'

DARTMOUTH, 2-1 overall and 0-1 in the Ivy League, will try to snap its nine-game losing streak against Yale, 1-2 and 0-1, at the Yale Bowl on Saturday at noon.

Yale is coming off a 47-24 loss at home to Colgate and the week before that lost 45-6 at Cornell.

Dartmouth, down 20-0 at the half, rallied at home against Penn last week, but fell, 28-21.

Yale running back Tyler Varga ran 21 times for 125 yards and a score and also had a touchdown catch. He had 275 all-purpose yards.

Joe Conlin, an assistant coach at UNH two years ago, is in his first year as associate head coach at Yale.

Rick Flanders, a native of Concord and 1979 graduate of the University of Maine, is Yale's defensive coordinator.

ST. ANSELM, 0-5 overall and 0-4 in the Northeast-10, faces Bentley, 4-0 and 3-0, at home on Saturday night at 7.

The Hawks are coming off a tough 45-34 loss at Southern Connecticut. A 29-yard field by Shea Cerio put them up 34-23 in the opening seconds of the fourth period but they could not hold onto the lead.

Freshman quarterback Andrew Murphy completed 29 of his 43 passes for 405 yards and four touchdowns and was intercepted once in his first start for St. Anselm.

Emmitt Smith, a freshman defensive back out of Pinkerton Academy of Derry, has returned two Bentley punts for 29 yards.

PLYMOUTH STATE, 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the New England Football Conference, is at MIT, 2-2 and 1-1, on Saturday at 1.

The Panthers are coming off a 20-14 overtime win over Nichols.

Chris Smith, a sophomore from Merrimack, blocked a punt that led to the score that gave PSU a 14-7 lead in the fourth quarter.

Senior Nick Cavallo of Salem punted 10 times with an average of 39.1 yards a kick and had two punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

FRANKLIN PIERCE lost to Pennsylvania, 24-20 on a last-minute touchdown, in its second-ever Sprint football game on Sunday.

The Ravens, now 0-2, are off this weekend and play at Princeton on Friday, Oct. 12.

No. 14 UNH at Georgia State

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Records: UNH is 3-2 overall, 1-1 in the CAA; Georgia State is 0-5.

Fact: Georgia State is coached by former Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky coach Bill Curry, a former NFL center. He is the only head coach in the history of the program, which began in 2008.

Radio: Wildcat Sports Radio Network (WGIR 610 AM, WQSO 96.7, WPKX 930 AM, WNTK 99.7 FM, WCNL 1010 AM, WUVY 1490 AM, WASR 1420 AM)

Dartmouth at Yale

When: Saturday, noon

Where: Yale Bowl, New Haven, Conn.

Records: Dartmouth is 2-1 overall, 0-1 in the Ivy League; Yale is 1-2, 0-1.

Fact: Only twice in the history of Ivy League has the champ lost more than once.

Radio: WFRD 99.3 FM

Bentley at St. Anselm

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.

Where: Grappone Stadium, Goffstown

Records: St. Anselm is 0-5, 0-4 in the Northeast-10; Bentley is 4-0, 3-0 in the NE-10.

Fact: Bentley is in a three-way tie for first place in the NE-10.

Plymouth State at MIT

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.

Where: Steinbrenner Field, Cambridge, Mass.

Records: Plymouth State is 2-3, 1-1 in the Boyd Division of the New England Football Conference; MIT is 2-2, 1-1.

Fact: After Saturday, PSU plays three of its final four games at home.

University Sports Football Running Plymouth Durham