For UNH football team, time to reflect, then recruit
THE GOOD FOOTBALL FOLKS of Wofford College no doubt spent Sunday watching tape and game-planning in preparation for a quarterfinal duel at North Dakota State on Saturday in the Football Championship Subdivision.
University of New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell and his staff met on Sunday morning to look and think a little further ahead.
UNH coaches hit the road to recruit today.
Wofford whacked UNH, 23-7, in Spartanburg, S.C., on Saturday, smothering the usually potent Wildcat offense and rolling up an impressive 454 yards on the ground against the defense.
Thanks to the Terriers, another impressive Wildcat football season crashed to a disappointing close.
"That's the whole thing with the playoffs," McDonnell said late on Sunday morning. "With success come those kinds of feelings. You've got to sit here and hurt for a couple of days and then you've got to put it in perspective and see who's coming back and what you've lost - and we've lost some great players and more importantly some great kids with this group - and move forward."
For the first time since 2002, two years before UNH's current best-in-the-nation string of nine straight playoff appearances began, the Wildcats lost their last two games of the season.
Every other tournament year in this run, UNH had won its last regular-season game.
Towson knocked off the Wildcats, 64-35, in Durham on Nov. 17 and UNH had a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
"You went from being 6-1 in the league and playing for the league championship and having a great season to losing that game and then losing in the playoffs and finishing with back-to-back loses," McDonnell said.
UNH was playing for its first outright league title since 1994 against Towson and instead had to settle for a share of the CAA crown.
On Saturday, McDonnell reminded the Wildcats in the locker room of what they had accomplished.
"I told the kids we did some real good things this year," he said after the game. "We were 2-2 and go on a six-game win streak and win three of them on the road and did some things in what I think is one of the best leagues in the country."
The Wildcats had numerous pieces returning this season, but did not have an experienced player back to run the offense at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Sean Goldrich and Andy Vailas, a sophomore out of Bedford and Bishop Guertin of Nashua, stepped up and did the job and offensive coordinator Ryan Carty has two guys to build around.
"From where we were coming into this season with a lot of question marks, especially at the quarterback position and a couple others, you go to the playoffs and you make another run at it, it's a successful season," McDonnell said.
But it's not enough.
"We want better," the coach said. "No one in that room is satisfied with getting in the playoffs and losing in the first round. So we have to go back and look at what we're doing and work to improve and try to figure out how we can become a better program that way."
In six of the first seven years of this playoff run, UNH won its first game and then lost its next.
Each of the last two years, the Wildcats have been ousted in their first game.
It may seem strange for a team that largely thrives on offense, but for the most part the defense has given UNH a chance to win in recent playoffs games, but the offense has come up short.
Even Saturday, despite giving up 454 rushing yards, the defense came up with three turnovers and turned one into UNH's only touchdown of the game.
Last year, the Wildcats lost 26-25 at Montana State and the two seasons before that ended at Delaware, 16-3, and at Villanova, 46-7.
"It's just disappointing, because you don't expect that to be the deal," said McDonnell, who was not assigning blame to any particular part of his team.
"As I told them, we don't point fingers," he said. "We're all in this together. If we need to score 65 points to win, we should do it. If we need to hold them to six points, we should do it."
It's a philosophy that has served the Wildcats quite well - they have an overall record of 81-33 over the nine tournament years - for the last decade.