Allen Lessels' College Football: Wildcats' mantra is to stay hungry
DURHAM -- Members of the University of New Hampshire football team take the field each week with targets firmly affixed to their jerseys.
No wonder. Added attention comes with a nation’s-best mark of making the FCS playoffs nine consecutive seasons and putting together a streak of 130 straight weeks ranked in the Top 25, a number that also leads the country and is a whopping 83 weeks more than the second-highest number, the 47 of Montana State.
That said, those UNH bulls-eyes likely will be super-sized the next couple of weeks in games against Lehigh and Towson.
Both teams will be looking for a little payback.
Each made a strong case to be included in the NCAA tournament last year, and each watched the selection show last Nov. 18 and came away bitter.
UNH got in again. Towson and Lehigh were left out.
“We like to take pride in being the hungriest team on the field, no matter who we play,” said UNH senior co-captain and running back Chris Setian. “They’re absolutely going to be hungry, and we just need to remind ourselves that we need to be the hungrier team and that we need to kind of play with the chip on our shoulder that we always have and not forget what got us here in the first place.”
The Wildcats earned their bid last year with an overall record of 8-3, and they shared a piece of the Colonial Athletic Association title with a 6-2 league mark.
Lehigh won its first nine games last season and was ranked No. 5 in one poll, No. 8 in another when it then lost to Patriot League rival Colgate. Lehigh finished 10-1 overall, but was denied an at-large bid, and Colgate represented the league in the NCAAs.
Towson made its case for the NCAAs on the field. The Tigers came to Durham the day before the Selection Show and broke open a close game at the half (30-28) with a dominant second half and routed UNH, 64-35.
Towson, too, finished 6-2 in the league to earn a piece of the CAA title. But the Tigers, with a couple of loses to Football Bowl Subdivision teams included, had an overall record of 7-4 and did not get a postseason invitation.
Lehigh and Towson are both undefeated and climbing in the polls and looking to make amends for last season.
The Tigers are 4-0 and ranked No. 3 in the country with wins over Connecticut (33-18) of the FBS, Holy Cross (49-7), Delaware State (49-7) and North Carolina Central (35-17) They are next week’s headache.
For now, UNH coach Sean McDonnell and his staff are concerned with the 3-0 Mountain Hawks, who have had three come-from-behind wins.
“They’re a very resilient football team,” McDonnell said. “You keep watching the tape and every game there’s some part of the game where they’re struggling a little bit and they just hang in there, hang in there, hang in there.”
Lehigh trailed Princeton 22-3 midway through the third period last week and came away with a 29-28 win. The Mountain Hawks also have wins over Central Connecticut State (51-44 in overtime) and Monmouth (28-25).
UNH is ranked No. 10 in The Sports Network poll and No. 7 in the FCS Coaches’ poll. Lehigh is at No. 21 and No. 17.
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DARTMOUTH opened the season with a 30-23 win at Butler last week and faces Holy Cross in its home opener on Saturday night at 7.
Sophomore quarterback Dalyn Willians completed 22 of his 35 passes for 228 yards and also ran for 119 yards to lead the Big Green over Butler. He was named the Ivy League co-Offensive Player of the Week.
Senior tailback Dominic Pierre carried 23 times for 95 yards and three touchdowns.
Holy Cross fell to 1-3 with a 21-14 loss to Monmouth on Saturday. The Crusaders have played three quarterbacks and freshman Peter Pujals is expected to get his first start against Dartmouth. He was 12 for 19 for 129 yards and two scores with one interception in relief action against Monmouth.
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ST. ANSELM, 0-3 overall and 0-2 in the Northeast-10, looks for its first win against Southern Connecticut at home tonight at 7. Sophomore quarterback Andrew Murphy has completed 77 of his 126 passes (61.1 percent) for 720 yards with eight touchdowns and five picks. Junior Justin Bernard has 29 catches for 248 yards and five scores. Southern Connecticut is 1-2 and 1-0 and coming off a 40-34 win over Merrimack.
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Plymouth State, 1-2 overall and 0-1 in the MASCAC, is at UMass-Dartmouth on Saturday at 4. Senior defensive back Jake Matthews of Windham leads the Panthers with 23 tackles and had his first interception of the year in last week’s loss to Western Connecticut.
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