The University of New Hampshire football team needs to beat Maine at Cowell Stadium today to have any shot at playing next Saturday or beyond.
To knock off the Black Bears, the Wildcats must find a way to at least slow senior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski, the guy who makes the Maine offense go.
“He’s something else,” said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. “He’s been effective as all get-out.”
Wasilewski and a tough defense have led Maine to a 10-1 overall record and the No. 4 FCS ranking in the country.
The Black Bears are 7-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association, have already won the regular season championship outright, and are looking to close out the first perfect season in the league since James Madison ran the table in 2008.
UNH is ranked No. 21 in one poll, No. 24 in another, and is 6-4 overall and 5-2 in the CAA. The Wildcats must get to 7-4 and then hope they hear their name called as one of 13 at-large invitees to the 24-team FCS tournament during a selection show on ESPNU on Sunday morning at 11:30.
Andy Vailas, a junior from Bedford, was getting most of the work with the UNH starters at quarterback during practice this week.
Sophomore Sean Goldrich, who started last week’s game at Albany, continues to deal with injured ribs.
There’s no question about the Maine starter at quarterback.
The Black Bears have thrown 334 passes this year and all but seven of them have come from Wasilewski’s right hand. He’s completed 228 of his 327 passes (69.7 percent) for 2,789 yards and 23 touchdowns with six interceptions.
“He’s very good at reading what a defense is doing and he’ll run plays to counter what we’re trying to do,” said UNH senior strong safety Manny Asam. “We’ve got to try and confuse him and get him to make some mistakes, get his eyes in the wrong places. He’s very good. They’ve won because of him not making mistakes and that’s what we have to try and do, get him to make some mistakes and then get some turnovers.”
It won’t be easy.
Wasilewski has thrown the six picks, but the last came on Sept. 28 against Richmond. In his last six games, the quarterback has completed 124 of his 170 passes for 14 touchdowns and has not been intercepted.
The Black Bears lead the league in turnover margin at plus-seven and have not turned the ball over a single time in the last four games.
The Wildcats have been securing the ball better in the second half of the season and have their turnover margin up to plus-2.
They turned it over three times in a 17-10 loss at William & Mary three weeks ago. But in four of their last five games, besides that one, they have a single turnover total.
UNH hopes to take advantage of playing at home. The Wildcats are 4-0 at Cowell this season and 23-2 in their last 25 at the stadium.
UNH has won nine of the last 10 games in the series and thus has had the Brice-Cowell Musket that goes to the winner of the series in its locker room the vast majority of the time in the last decade.
Maine last beat UNH, 16-13 in overtime, in Orono in 2010 and its last win in Durham came in 2001, 57-24.
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DARTMOUTH, 5-4 overall and 4-2 in the Ivy League, closes out the season at home against Princeton, 8-1 and 6-0, today at 1:30.
The Tigers have clinched at least a share of the Ivy title and will win it outright with a win against Dartmouth or Harvard loss at Yale.
The Big Green are looking for their second straight 6-4 overall record and third in the last four years.
Director of athletics Harry Sheehy said this week that he liked the direction the program was heading and that Buddy Teevens will be returning as coach next season.
Sophomore quarterback Dalyn Williams has completed 143 of his 250 passes for 1,681 yards and 10 touchdowns with three interceptions.