Allen Lessels' College Football: And now, a sense of urgency for UNH
DURHAM -- THE big one that got away last Saturday in Michigan is coming back to haunt the University of New Hampshire football team a bit already.
Had they been able to hold on and knock off Central Michigan — rather than falling 27-24 on a last-seconds field goal in their season-opening game — the Wildcats would have had a little cushion heading into their next couple of contests.
Instead, the pressure ramps up for Saturday’s noon home opener against Colgate at Cowell Stadium.
“We’ve got to be 1-1,” said senior wide receiver Justin Mello. “We can’t be 0-2. It’s never easy to come back. This team is capable of doing it, but you don’t want to put yourself in that position.”
The last time the Wildcats lost their first two games of the season, they finished 3-8 in 2002. Two years after that, in 2004, they went 10-3 in 2004 and started their current run of nine straight FCS tournament appearances.
Part of the urgency this season is because of the way the schedule sets up.
The Wildcats have two weeks to sit on the Colgate result — good or bad. They’re off on Sept. 21 and then play at Lehigh, a perennial power in the Patriot League along with Colgate, on Sept. 28. Lehigh outlasted Central Connecticut, 51-44, in two overtimes, in its opener on Saturday.
UNH then travels to take on Towson in its Colonial Athletic Association opener on Oct. 5. The Tigers are 2-0, ranked No. 5 in the country and shaping up as one of the nation’s most powerful teams.
First, UNH must contend with Colgate, which is already desperate with losses at Air Force (38-13) and at home to Albany (37-34) last week.
“We’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen to us,” said Mello of the 0-2 start.
The Wildcat defense was tremendous in the first half against Central Michigan, a Football Bowl Subdivision team, and played well throughout the game but for a few big plays late.
Now the unit led by junior linebacker Shane McNeely, senior defensive end Cody Muller and defensive backs Manny Asam, a senior, and Casey DeAndrade, a redshirt freshman, will see what it can do against Colgate senior quarterback Gavin McCarney, who can run and throw, and an FCS offense.
Colgate had four turnovers in the first half — three lost fumbles and an interception — and rallied from a 30-14 defect late in the third quarter, but came up short.
The UNH offense should get a boost from explosive redshirt freshman Dalton Crossan, expected to get his first action behind junior running back Nico Steriti and as a receiver.
Crossan missed last week’s game with a foot injury. He’s not 100 percent, said head coach Sean McDonnell, but will play.
Andy Vailas, a junior out of Bedford, will start again at quarterback and sophomore Sean Goldrich will get at least one series in the game, McDonnell said.
ST. ANSELM, coming off a 42-28 loss at home at Bowie State in its opener, is at Stonehill on Saturday night at 6. Stonehill beat the Hawks, 35-20, last season.
Hawk sophomore quarterback Andrew Murphy completed 19 of his 39 passes for 165 yards, three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions against Bowie.
Stonehill also lost its opener, 41-13 at Bloomsburg. Taylor Russell, a 6-foot-4 and 335-pound junior from Keene, started at defensive tackle for Stonehill in that one and had four tackles. Stonehill also boasts a pair of Manchester Central products. Sophomore placekicker Steve Grzywacz, a sophomore, was 1-for-2 with his extra-points against Bloomsburg. Another sophomore, defensive back Jared Chandler, had one assisted tackle.
PLYMOUTH STATE fell in its opener, 35-31 to Castleton State, and heads to Newton, Mass., to face Mt. Ida on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Zach Ziemba, a freshman defensive back out of Manchester West, started his Plymouth State career off with four tackles and three pass breakups.