Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: A lesson learned
The University of New Hampshire football team learned what it thinks will be a valuable lesson on a Friday night in late December on an indoor field in North Dakota.
A powerful and polished North Dakota State team took it to the Wildcats, 52-14, on the way to a third straight FCS national championship appearance. The Bison will face their second straight Colonial Athletic Association foe on Jan. 4 in Frisco, Texas, and try to win a third consecutive championship.
Towson earned its first spot in a title game with a 35-31 come-from-behind win over Eastern Washington on Saturday.
UNH will regroup after its finest season — featuring a 10-5 record and its first trip to the semifinals — and work at finding a way to take this playoff thing a step or two further.
"Playing a team like that shows what we've got to do in the offseason to be ready for a situation like this," sophomore quarterback Sean Goldrich said after the game. "We have every expectation to be back here in the same spot next year. We've just got to learn to capitalize on it. We've taken this program somewhere it's never been and we understand what we've got to do to win the next step."
Andy Vailas, a junior out of Bedford, was the starting quarterback at the beginning of the year and Goldrich had the job at the end and both are among a large group of players who will be back next year.
As this season progressed from a 1-3 start, there were already people close to the program who were looking ahead excitedly to 2014.
Four seniors started on offense and four more on defense on Friday night in the Fargodome and they will certainly be missed.
A bunch of talented starters return and there's nice depth at many positions.
The offensive line will be rebuilt around tackle Rob Bowman, who will be a senior, and center Tad McNeely and guard Alexander Morrill, who will be sophomores. McNeely started from the beginning of this season and Morrill, out of Lebanon High School, started the last 11 games of the season.
Franklin's Matt Kaplan will be back for his senior season to anchor the defensive line and lead a defense that improved steadily and became a team strength.
Wide receiver R.J. Harris, already second in catches and fifth in receiving yards in school history, and Nico Steriti, who this year became the first runner to go for more than 1,000 yards since Stefan Lewis in 2002, will look to have big senior years.
Linebackers Akil Anderson, Shane McNeely and Devaughn Chollette are back, too, along with defensive back Casey DeAndrade, who was impressive as a redshirt freshman.
The first task for coach Sean McDonnell and his staff is to catch up on recruiting, leading into the first week of February when incoming players sign their letters of intent to accept a scholarship.
Playing well into December did cut into recruiting season.
The good news is that UNH has already received verbal commitments from several players, including quarterback Trevor Knight of Nashua South, and the exposure from surviving deep into the tournament and being on ESPN2 on Friday will only help attract more.
So yes, Friday's outcome was disappointing, but the Wildcats were quickly looking ahead, too.
"I've got three more years," DeAndrade said just before the lights went out in the Fargodome. "Hopefully I'm standing here talking to you guys next year. Obviously we made history and all that stuff. But we didn't get to our ultimate goal."
UNH sophomore defenseman Brett Pesce and the United States National Junior team take on the Czech Republic on Thursday (11:30 a.m., ET) to open play in the World Junior Championships in Malmo, Sweden.
The United States is the defending champion in the event.
Jon Gillies, the Providence College sophomore, made 38 saves to lead the U.S to a 3-2 win over Finland on Sunday in its final pre-championships warm-up.
Pesce was not in the lineup for the win over Finland. A third-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2013, Pesce has a goal and an assist through UNH's first 19 games.
THE UNH hockey team plays a couple of games in Florida next weekend and then returns to the state for a home-centric stretch of games.
The Wildcats play Cornell on Saturday night in the first round of the Florida College Classic in Estero on Saturday at 7:30 and then plays either Maine or Princeton on Sunday.
After Florida, Dick Umile's team leaves New Hampshire for only one game through Valentine's Day.
Nebraska-Omaha starts the home-stretch with games at the Whittemore Center on Jan. 3 and 4.
UNH and Dartmouth get back to their annual game — they took last year off when the Wildcats played in Dartmouth's holiday tournament — at Verizon Wireless Arena on Jan. 11 at 5 p.m.
Union comes to the Whittemore Center for games on Jan. 17 and 18. Maine is in town on Friday, Jan. 24 and the teams meet in Orono the next night.
Hockey East's newest member, Notre Dame, plays at the Whittemore Center on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 Vermont is in for games on Feb. 7 and 8.
Boston University plays at UNH on Feb. 14.
The Wildcats go to BU on Jan. 15 and then close out the regular season with a pair of games at Merrimack on Feb. 28 and March 1.
UNH enters the second half of the season all even at 9-9-1 overall and 5-5-0 in Hockey East.
The Wildcats are in third place in the league standings with 10 points, three points behind Providence and Boston College, who are tied for first.
UNH announced last week that Cannon Mountain will serve as the alpine ski team's home mountain for this year.
The UNH Carnival is scheduled for Jan. 24 and 25. The giant slalom will be held at Cannon on Friday and the slalom on Saturday.
Cross country races will be at Jackson Ski Touring both days.