Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: Victory has nice ring to it
It's Championship Month in Durham, and the University of New Hampshire football team has narrowed the focus even a bit more and tabbed this Ring Week.
The challenge is straight ahead: If the Wildcats can beat hard-charging Towson on Saturday at Cowell Stadium, they will be sole champions of the Colonial Athletic Association for the first time since 1994.
A win would serve other purposes, too. It would keep UNH at least in the conversation for a home game in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision tournament and avenge a tough loss at Towson last year.
So here they go.
The Wildcats are riding a six-game win streak, are 8-2 overall, 6-1 in the CAA and moved up to the No. 7 ranking in the country this week.
Towson, the defending CAA champion and pre-season pick to win the league this year, is 6-4 and 5-2 and fighting to keep its season going. The Tigers need to win to have any chance to make the playoffs.
Towson has won its last three games and two of its losses were to FBS teams, Kent State, 41-21, and LSU, 38-22.
UNH once again boasts a powerful offense and this season it's been extremely well-balanced.
"I think we're starting to buy into ourselves and how good we can be offensively," said junior running back Chris Setian, a threat both running and catching passes. "We're not even running on all cylinders yet. We still haven't hit a game where we absolutely break out. Well, we did against ODU, but we even made mistakes in that game."
The Wildcats collected 725 yards of offense in that one, a 64-61 loss at Old Dominion on Sept. 22.
UNH got into a similar shootout at Towson last season. The Wildcats were ranked No. 7 then, too, and went into the game with a 7-2 overall record.
They piled up a season-high 611 yards of offense that day, nearly 100 more than Towson's 517.
But UNH had no answer for running back Terrance West, then a Towson freshman. He carried the ball 23 times for 261 yards and four touchdowns, with scores of 72, 2, 69 and 2 yards.
The Wildcat defense, which has been better against the run this season, will need to be again on Saturday.
That balanced UNH offense could help keep West and the Tiger offense off the field, too.
The Wildcats are averaging 237 yards a game rushing this year and 246 passing and are second in the league in total offense with 483 yards a game.
The top five teams are seeded for the FCS tournament and if the Wildcats can break into that group - they'll need some help in the form of upsets above them - they would get a home game for the tournament.
The Sports Network predicted in a projected tournament bracket this week that UNH would get a bye for the first round and then play a second-round game at Appalachian State.
Before any of that and before the tournament draw is announced on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. on ESPNU, the Wildcats have but one concern: Saturday's Ring Game.
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THE No. 5-ranked men's hockey team restarts its long road-trip with games at UMass-Lowell tonight at 7 and Boston University on Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Wildcats had been on the road for three straight and then stopped by the Whittemore Center last Saturday night and knocked off Vermont, 4-0.
UNH plays at Colorado College next Friday night and at the University of Denver on Saturday before returning home to play UMass-Lowell on Nov. 30.
Lowell has played a tough schedule and is 2-4-1 overall and 1-3-1 in Hockey East. Junior Doug Carr has a 2-3-1 record with a .911 save percentage and 2.25 goals-against average.
BU is 5-3-0 overall and 4-2-0 in the league going into a game tonight at Vermont.
Casey DeSmith, a sophomore goalie out of Rochester, is on quite a roll for the Wildcats and has three shutouts in his last four games.
He has an outstanding save percentage of .953 and a goals-against average of 1.36. Those numbers improve to .968 and 0.98 in Hockey East games.
UNH's penalty killing has been impressive, too. The Wildcats have allowed opponents just two power-play goals on 29 chances. Plus, they have scored two short-handed goals.
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Allen Lessels covers college sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.