Sean McDonnell rarely talks about polls and rankings during the regular season. But on Monday he didn’t mind addressing the fact his program finished fifth overall in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 College Football and the FCS Coaches polls.
The No. 5 ranking matches the best final ranking in school history. In 2005, UNH also finished No. 5 with an 11-2 record. That team entered the post-season ranked No. 1 in the country, won a first-round game and lost in the quarterfinal round.
“I’m just happy for the entire team, particularly our senior class who wanted to set a legacy for this program,” said McDonnell, who was named Monday as the Fall 2013 Division I FCS Football Coach of the Year by CaptainU, a college sports recruiting agency.
In his 15th season at the helm McDonnell led the Wildcats to a 10-5 overall record after the team started the season at 1-3. They bounced back strong, qualifying for the FCS tournament for a national-best 10th consecutive year.
The season ended with the program earning its first semifinal appearance. The Wildcats lost 52-14 in Fargo, N.D., to North Dakota State, which went on to beat Towson 35-7 for its third straight FCS national championship Saturday.
McDonnell said reaching the semifinals was a major accomplishment for his program.
“I mean the final ranking is one thing, but getting to the semifinals of the national tournament was phenomenal. Our seniors can always look back and say with pride ‘look what we did’ for the program. The seniors, every player on our roster, gave us everything a coach could ask of them. So I applaud them all.”
The Wildcats remained a top-25 team in the The Sports Network poll for the 140th straight week. It’s currently the longest active streak in the nation since Oct. 1, 2012, when Montana’s weekly streak in The Sports Network poll was halted at 195.
UNH’s 10-spot jump to the final No. 5 ranking (the Wildcats were ranked No. 15 in the previous Sports Network poll before playing North Dakota State) is the best in school history dating back to the 1990 season.
The Sports Network and FCS coaches polls both, in order, had North Dakota State (15-0) at No. 1 followed by national runner-up Towson (13-3), Eastern Washington (12-3), Eastern Illinois (12-2) and UNH (10-5). The Wildcats were the only team with five losses ranked in the top 10 in both polls.
McDonnell said his team was at a crossroad following a 44-28 loss to Towson on Oct. 5, dropping the team’s record to 1-3.
“After that game our team held a players-only meeting and we started practicing on Sundays from that point on,” said McDonnell. “Our seniors were determined to get us back on track and they led the way.”
UNH won three straight after losing to Towson, lost to William & Mary and proceeded to win six straight including playoff wins against Lafayette (45-7), Maine (41-27) and Southeastern Louisiana (20-17) to reach the semifinal round.
“Bottom line is we had our backs against the wall after losing our fourth season game to William & Mary,” said McDonnell. “We all knew we couldn’t qualify for the tournament if we lost a fifth game during the regular season. Again, it’s a testament to our seniors and team that we stayed focus and worked hard to win all those games down the stretch.”
McDonnell, who owns a 114-71 record in 15 seasons, won the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year award in 2005.