College Football: UNH on a business trip
HAMMOND, La. — Southeastern Louisiana and junior quarterback Bryan Bennett remind folks around the University of New Hampshire football program of Villanova and quarterback John Robertson.
That's not a good thing.
How well, or if, the Wildcats manage to contain, or at least slow Bennett will likely go a long way toward determining whether UNH is playing any more football this season after tonight.
The Wildcats and Southeastern Louisiana meet at 7 in Strawberry Stadium in an FCS quarterfinal round game. The game will be broadcast online on ESPN3.
"It's an awesome experience," said starting left guard Alexander Morrill, a redshirt freshman out of Lebanon, after stopping by the stadium. "It's real exciting. It's my first time in Louisiana and we're playing a good team."
UNH is 9-4 and has won its last five games. The Lions are 11-2 and have won 10 straight.
The winner moves on to a semifinal contest next weekend against the winner of this afternoon's Coastal Carolina at North Dakota State game.
Southeastern Louisiana, which brought back football in 2003 after an 18-year hiatus, is playing in the FCS tournament for the first time.
UNH is in the tournament for a nation's-best 10th consecutive season and has never made it as far as the semifinals.
Last year at this time, Bennett was preparing for the Fiesta Bowl with the University of Oregon Ducks. He played the last two seasons as a backup quarterback for Manchester's Chip Kelly at Oregon and appeared in 18 games.
Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles and Bennett headed to Louisiana looking for playing time.
He's found plenty of it. For good reason. Bennett is 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, fast and strong and, like Robertson, he makes the Lions go with his legs and his arms.
"He's a transfer from Oregon and that opens eyes," said UNH redshirt defensive back Casey Andrade. "He's a talented kid. He has a very good arm and a very quick release that makes it tough to get a good break on the ball. If we can contain him and keep him in the pocket, it will help us out quite a bit."
That's tough to do, too.
Bennett, the Player of the Year in the Southland Conference, has rushed for 1,017 yards and 15 touchdowns. He passed for 2,896 yards and 20 touchdowns and was intercepted 10 times.
Teams had a difficult time getting to him as well. He was sacked only 12 times all season.
The Wildcats have 43 sacks for the season.
Robertson gave UNH fits when the teams met in Durham on Oct. 19. He rushed for 256 yards and scored three touchdowns The Wildcats won the game, though, 29-28, and have been playing better defense as the season has progressed.
Offensively, UNH will look to crank up its running game and mix things up, as usual.
"We have all of our basic stuff in, our blocking schemes," Morrill said. "As long as we play solid and do what we have to do technique-wise, I feel it's going to be good."
Sam Houston State rushed for 287 yards against SE Louisiana last week, but played much of the game without its starting quarterback, who left with an injury. Sam Houston completed only three of 19 passes for 15 yards.
Junior running back Nico Steriti is closing in on the 1,000-yard mark for UNH. He's at 946 yards for the season and is averaging 5.3 yards a rush and has scored eight touchdowns. Steriti has also thrown three option passes and completed them all. Senior running back Chris Setian has scored seven rushing TDs.
Senior wide receiver Justin Mello has 66 catches for 936 yards and 10 scores and junior R.J. Harris has 60 for 861 yards and five TDs.
Sophomore Sean Goldrich will start at quarterback. He started in playoff wins over Lafayette (45-7) and Maine (41-27). He's completed 121 of his 203 passes (59.6) for 1,683 yards and 14 TDs. He's been intercepted four times.