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December 05. 2013 9:29PM

Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: Wildcats' fortunes at Maine may rest with the big guys


University of New Hampshire player 55 sacks the quarterback, vs. Lafayette in the second half of their playoff game hosted in Durham Saturday. (Mark Bolton/ Union Leader Photo)

DURHAM

SEAMUS O'NEILL, the University of New Hampshire left tackle and captain out of Manchester Central, knows the feeling from an offensive lineman's point of view. And doesn't like it much.

"It's demoralizing," O'Neill said. "Once you give up a sack you know the person is thinking, 'All right, I got one, now I'm going to get another.' As an offensive lineman, you don't want to give up one because once they get one, they get thirsty for the blood."

Quarterback sacks have become a topic of discussion as the Wildcats prepare for a rematch with Maine in the second round of the FCS tournament on Saturday at Alfond Stadium in Orono. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.

UNH knocked off the Black Bears, 24-3, two weeks ago in Durham and needed the win to make the NCAA playoffs for the 10th straight season.

The Wildcat defense sacked Maine senior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski five times that day, resulting in an interception and a fumble recovered by UNH. Wasilewski is the Colonial Athletic Association's first-team quarterback.

Maine, which was looking to finish its CAA season unbeaten, had not turned the ball over in its previous four games.

The five sacks for UNH were a season best. Until last week.The Wildcats doubled the total to 10 — the most in an NCAA playoff game since James Madison had 11 against Lehigh on Nov. 27, 2004 — in a 45-7 shellacking of Lafayette last Saturday to earn another shot at Maine.

Maine had three sacks against UNH's two quarterbacks two weeks ago.

O'Neill and his linemates, including redshirt freshman Alexander Morrill of Lebanon beside him at left guard, did not give up a sack to Lafayette.

The 15 sacks in the last two weeks give the Wildcats a CAA-high 40 for the season and are their most since the 1994 team led by Mike Foley and Joe Fleming collected 45 for the year.

Senior defensive end Jay Colbert opened the Lafayette game with a sack and had three in the game.Matt Kaplan, the junior defensive tackle out of Franklin, and Cody Muller, a senior defensive end, have 6.5 sacks apiece to lead the Wildcats.

Sacks are hugely important when it comes to disrupting an offense, which leads to turnovers or getting off the field on defense, UNH coach Sean McDonnell noted this week, and said his team has been getting better at getting to the quarterback.

But still.

"We've done a decent job of pressuring the quarterback," McDonnell said. "But we're not the New York Jet Sack Exchange here (a famed group led by Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko in the early 1980s). We've got a lot of things to do to get better. But the numbers speak for themselves. The kids are getting better because they're getting experience, a lot of games, a lot of snaps."

The Wildcats got on a roll and piled up sacks last weekend and that throws their season numbers off a bit, McDonnell said.

The defense had six sacks total in its first four games and has 34 in its last eight, with at least three in each game.

"The guys up front especially are doing a really good job of getting after the quarterback," said defensive coordinator John Lyons. "I think the other thing we're doing is showing people different things and changing things on them and not being predictable in terms of what we're trying to do. When you mix it up with different looks and guys are walking up and going in and out, it makes it harder for them. Our kids are doing a better job of selling things."

They'll try to sell things again on Saturday and see if they can get Wasilewski and his offense off their game again.

UNH was the only team to keep Maine out of the end zone, and under 19 points, this season.

The Black Bears, 10-2, had a bye in the first round of the tournament and had last week off and had extra time to prepare for New Hampshire this time.

The stakes are high.

The winner moves on to a quarterfinal contest against either No. 4 seed Southern Louisiana or Southern Utah, who meet on Saturday night in Hammond, La.

The losing team plays again next fall.

.

THE men's hockey team takes on one of its Hockey East arch-rivals this weekend, looking to carry some momentum into its Christmas break that starts late on Saturday night.

UNH plays at Boston College tonight at 7 and the teams meet again on Saturday night at 7 at the Whittemore Center. After that, the Wildcats are off until Dec. 28 and 29 when they play in the Florida College Classic in Estero.

UNH is 9-7-1 overall and at 5-3-0 in Hockey East holds down second place, a point behind Providence and a point in front of BC.

The Eagles have played two games fewer than UNH and Providence and are 8-4-2 and 4-1-1.

UNH is ranked No. 18 in the country, BC No. 9.

"They're always a very fast, skilled team," said UNH goalie Casey DeSmith, a junior from Rochester. "It tends to be a run-and-gun game when we play them. Big ice sheets. Hopefully we can take a little of the defense we've been playing into it."

The Wildcats won 4-2 and 2-0 games at Colorado College last weekend and want to go into the break on a roll.

"We'll be thinking about this weekend for a while, going through Christmas and definitely looking at the standings over the break," DeSmith said. "It would be nice to be a couple of points higher than we are right now and definitely still be at the top of the league."

UNH plays Cornell in its first game in the Florida tournament and then either Maine or Princeton.

alessels@unionleader.com


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