Wildcats will need to contend with Fargodome noise
A BONE-CHILLING breeze and temperatures several degrees below zero greeted University of New Hampshire football players as they stepped off the airplane a few minutes after noon on Thursday.
The reception Friday night for the Wildcats in the Fargodome for their FCS semifinal battle with North Dakota State will be far less welcoming than that.
The Fargodome itself will be a comfortable 70 degrees, but North Dakota State University and its rabid fans will be out to turn up the heat on UNH in a major way.
The Wildcats, 10-4 and looking for a seventh straight win, are the only thing standing between undefeated North Dakota State and chance for a third consecutive FCS national championship.
The Fargodome has a well-earned reputation for being a tough place to play and the 18,000-plus likely to be in attendance will rock the building in support of their beloved Bison."We've been to a lot of loud places," said Paul Chapman, UNH director of strength and conditioning. "Rutgers was loud, Montana State was loud, Northern Iowa was loud. This is significantly louder than those. It's the loudest around. By far."
The Wildcats have not played here. Chapman, though, is 4-0 in the building. He was with the University of North Dakota before he came to UNH and the Fighting Sioux won each of the four times he visited and played the Bison while both teams were Div. II powers.
What especially ramps up the atmosphere, said Chapman and UNH coach Sean McDonnell, is that North Dakota State fans know their football and raise the roof on their noise at the most opportune time for their team, such as on third down for their opponent's offense.
The louder they make it, the more difficult it is to call or adjust a play.
UNH practiced on Tuesday and Wednesday this week at the New Hampshire Sportsplex in Bedford to get the feel for playing indoors and also to pipe in loud music and try to simulate the atmosphere in the Fargodome and work on getting their plays in and called.
Sophomore quarterback Sean Goldrich, who ran for three touchdowns in last week's 20-17 quarterfinal win at Southeastern Louisiana, thinks his team will be able to deal with the noise.
"I don't think that's going to be much of a factor," Goldrich said. "The good thing is we're not a huddle team. It's not like we'll have to be talking to one another, so if it gets too loud we'll be able to overcome that. We hope."
They certainly do hope.
"The biggest thing is how we handle the noise on offense and how we contain their power and Jensen," McDonnell said.
Brock Jensen is North Dakota State's outstanding senior quarterback who has passed for 30 touchdowns and run for eight more and has been intercepted just six times.
His weapons include running backs Sam Ojuri (1,239 yards and eight touchdowns) and John Crockett (996, 10 TDs) and receiver Zach Vaara (1,064 yards and 13 TDs). He also has senior tackle Billy Turner protecting him.
"He's 6-foot-6 and 314 pounds and I keep watching the tape and marveling at how fast he can run," McDonnell said of Turner.
McDonnell says the Bison, in a way, are a combination of a couple of UNH's Colonial Athletic Association rivals: He likens their power offense to Towson's and their defense to William & Mary's.
That's not a real good thing. Those teams handed the Wildcats their last two losses: They fell at Towson, 44-28, on Oct. 5 and at William & Mary, 17-0, on Nov. 2.
Only two teams came within 18 points of North Dakota State this year: Kansas State in a 24-21 Bison win in their opener on the road and Northern Iowa in a 24-23 Bison win at home on Oct. 5.
North Dakota State needed rallies to win both games.
"Against Northern Iowa, they stuck to their game plan and just ran it down their throat," said UNH senior safety and captain Manny Asam.
The Wildcats will look to get out to a good start.
Coastal Carolina struggled early against North Dakota State in the quarterfinals last week and got blown out of the Fargodome, 48-14.
The Wildcats will see if they can do a better job of dealing with the noise and the explosive Bison.
"I think we've got a real good system in terms of our silent count stuff and these guys are pretty dialed in," said first-year wide receivers coach Ricky Santos.
Santos, the quarterback who kick-started UNH's run of 10 straight playoff appearances in 2004, led the Wildcats into a bunch of tough places to play.
"I used to love playing in venues like this," he said as he looked around the Fargodome. "These guys are great competitors on this team and they feel the same way. I think they shine brightest in the biggest games and I think they're going to do that again (Friday)."