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November 07. 2013 11:00PM

Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: JMU game viewed as must-win

DURHAM -- It's quite simple.

The University of New Hampshire football team must win Saturday’s home game against James Madison or that’s it.

If the Wildcats don’t win, there will be no need to worry about playoff possibilities, no need to wonder if a selection committee will deem the Wildcats worthy of an at-large berth in the FCS tournament.

There will be no 10th straight playoff appearance.

“We’re 4-4 and we’re .500 in the best league in the country and if we don’t win this game, we’re nowhere,” said UNH coach Sean McDonnell.

If they can knock off No. 22-ranked James Madison — which is 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association and also fighting for its playoff life — the Wildcats must still win next week at Albany and the week after that back home against a powerful Maine team to close out the regular season.

All McDonnell worries about is getting past the Dukes.

“It’s important that we win this football game just to get to 5-4,” he said. “And nothing else.”

The Wildcats rallied and fought back from a 1-3 start to the season with three straight wins. They were shut out for the first time since 1995, a span of 220 games, last week at William & Mary, 17-0, and that leaves no room for error.

“We have that mentality of taking it one game at a time and that will kind of clear that whole playoff picture,” said Seamus O’Neill, a senior left tackle and captain out of Manchester Central. “Because right now every game is a playoff game for us.”

Redshirt freshman defensive back Casey DeAndrade said the older guys — including the other two captains, Manny Asam and Chris Setian — are part of the motivation for him and the younger guys.

“Personally, I have four more years here,” he said. “This could be it for them. We don’t want to let them go out this way.”

The Wildcats must restart an offense that was held under 100 yards rushing for the first time this season and had a season low in total yards and also turned the ball over three times against William & Mary. And they must do it against another tough defensive team.

Junior wide receiver R.J. Harris, who returns after missing the last three games to injury, should help.

Sophomore Sean Goldrich will start again at quarterback, if he’s ready to go, McDonnell said. Goldrich and Andy Vailas, a junior out of Bedford and Bishop Guertin of Nashua, both played against William & Mary and both have been dealing with injuries this week.

- - - - - - -

FACT IS, the men’s hockey team has competed hard and well this season.

But the Wildcats have a 1-5-1 record, have lost their last four games and are winless in their last six.

“Overall, we’ve played pretty good, but we don’t have a whole lot to show for it,” said coach Dick Umile. “I’m not disappointed with the way the team has played, but I’m frustrated and I’m sure they’re frustrated. But that cannot interfere with how we prepare and look forward to the next week. And that’s what we’re doing. It’s about now. The present.”

Now is a weekend series with Massachusetts. The teams play tonight at the Whittemore Center at 7:30 and on Saturday night they play at the Mullins Center at UMass at 7.

The Minutemen are 3-4-1 overall and 1-1-1 in Hockey East. They are 3-0-1 at home and are 0-4-0 on the road.

This is the first opponent UNH has played since its opener that was not ranked No. 15 or better when the game was played. One of the five losses was to Minnesota, which is now ranked No. 1, and a loss and tie came at home to Michigan, which is now No. 2.

The fact UMass is not ranked won’t make things any easier, said senior forward Kevin Goumas.

“They’re a very good team,” he said. “They’re fighting for Hockey East points, just like we are.”

alessels@unionleader.com


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