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November 18. 2012 7:55PM

UNH football team to take on Wofford in tournament

DURHAM - The NCAA selection show for the Football Championship Subdivision tournament commenced at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday on ESPNU.

The football team locker room in the Field House erupted with cheers at about, oh, 1:32, when a bracket for the tournament that included "New Hampshire" appeared on the television screen.

"I didn't even see it," said senior offensive lineman and captain Chris Zarkoskie. "Everyone else started screaming and yelling. I just started crying. That would have been the last football game I ever played yesterday and that's not how I want to go out. That's not how I want this team to go out. I know we're better than that."

The Wildcats, crushed by Towson by a 64-35 score on Saturday, live to play another day.

UNH received a first-round bye and plays at Wofford in Spartanburg, S.C., in a second-round game on Saturday, Dec. 1.

The teams are in a bracket that includes North Dakota State, the defending champion and No. 1 seed in the tournament.

UNH is in the playoffs for the ninth straight season - the longest such streak in the country - and its selection capped an emotional roller-coaster of a weekend.

The weekend started with huge promise with the Wildcats playing Towson for their first outright Colonial Athletic Association championship since 1994 on Saturday at Cowell Stadium.

The weekend swung through that devastating and demoralizing loss to Towson and hours of worrying about whether the Wildcats would receive an at-large invitation to the tournament.

UNH and Wofford of the Southern Conference both are 8-3 overall and 6-2 in their league games and each grabbed a share of their conference championship.

In years past, an 8-3 record in a major conference such as the CAA or Southern Conference was pretty much a guarantee of landing an at-large berth in the tournament.

Not this year.

After UNH's loss on Saturday, several followers of FCS football predicted that the Wildcats were going to be among the teams with good records that would be left out.

As it turned out, the Wildcats were one of three CAA teams selected for the tournament, joining No. 4 seed Old Dominion and Villanova. Villanova finished 8-3 and 6-2 and received the CAA's automatic bid to the tournament via a tiebreaker. ODU was 10-1 and 7-1, but was ineligible for the CAA championship or auto bid because it is stepping up to the Football Bowl Subdivision next season.

Both Towson, which improved to 7-4 and 6-2 on Saturday, and Richmond, 8-3 and 6-2, shared the CAA title with UNH and Villanova. Neither Towson nor Richmond was selected for the tournament.

UNH's concern was that it left the decision up to a committee.

"Everything else was in our hands until 3:30 (Saturday) afternoon," McDonnell said. "That's the tough thing, You think you deserve it. But I've seen teams not go. You look, Lehigh's got to feel pretty tough right now with a 10-win season and not going. And Towson, the way they played at the end of the year."

The challenge ahead is to bounce back from Saturday's disappointing game against another team that loves to run the ball.

"The game yesterday leaves a bad taste in everybody's mouth," McDonnell said. "But it doesn't matter right now. We were 6-2 in the conference, 8-3 overall. We had a six-game win streak. I thought we responded any time we had adversity during the season. It's a credit to the kids, that they stuck with it. A credit to people for figuring out we're a pretty good football team."

The winner of the UNH-Wofford game plays either North Dakota State, South Dakota State or Eastern Illinois in the quarterfinals. Eastern Illinois plays at South Dakota State in a first-round game next Saturday and the winner of that plays at North Dakota in the second round on Dec. 1.

UNH is just happy to be playing again.

"It was the lowest of the lows yesterday and the highest of the highs today," Zarkoskie said.

alessels@unionleader.com


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