A loss is never easy to digest, but there were positive things from Saturday’s game against Toledo that University of New Hampshire head coach Sean McDonnell can address with his team heading into the program’s home opener in two weeks against Lehigh University.
The final 54-20 season-opening loss in Ohio to the Rockets, an FBS opponent, netted some good marks from quarterback Sean Goldrich and the offense.
Goldrich, chosen by McDonnell over teammate Andy Vailas of Bedford for the starting job, was impressive.
He was 27 of 39 for 291 passing yards, throwing for two touchdowns and no interceptions. The completions and passing yards were career highs and Goldrich managed to lead his team to an early 14-3 second-period advantage against Toledo, which was voted as the pre-season favorite to win the Mid-American Conference West Division this fall.
In the team’s first drive of the season, Goldrich completed five of his first six passes totaling 72 yards and eventually led UNH to paydirt when he threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to R.J. Harris.
The Wildcats, who entered the game ranked fourth in the FCS, led 7-3 after the first period and shortly gained a 14-3 lead with 7:43 left before halftime behind another drive led by Goldrich.
Goldrich was aided by a pass interference call on Toledo at the Wildcats’ 35-yard line.
After the infraction Goldrich caught fire, completing four consecutive passes to Jared Allison (eight yards), Kyon Taylor (eight yards), Harris (12 yards) and Mike Kelly of Merrimack (four yards), moving the ball to the Toledo 32. Goldrich kept the drive alive with a nine-yard run followed by a personal foul on Toledo, advancing the ball to the 12-yard-line.
Three plays later, Goldrich rushed five yards for a touchdown capping a 13-play, 87-yard drive that consumed six minutes.
“Sean Goldrich is a good football player,” McDonnell said. “That’s what we’ve seen from the middle of last year. “Now we have to get moving some people up front so we can run the ball and give him a little bit of a break.”
More positive notes were provided by receivers Harris and Allison.
Harris led UNH with nine catches and 149 receiving yards, moving him past John Perry (1989-92) for fourth best on UNH’s receiving yardage list with 2,926.
Allison had 55 yards on a career-high seven receptions.
“We got off to a fast start, but we kind of slowed down in the second half,” said Harris. “We couldn’t put things together and sustain drives. …I think we did some things well, but I think we need to take this bye week and the week leading up to Lehigh to do things better.”
More good news was the fact UNH trailed Toledo by only two points (16-14) at halftime and was still in a 10-point game with 4:33 left in the third quarter after Goldrich found Nico Steriti for an eight-yard touchdown pass.
The defense couldn’t hold the momentum as Toledo (674 total yards on offense) scored the final 24 points. McDonnell was disappointed with his defense after the game.
“We couldn’t tackle in open space, we couldn’t fill gaps, and we gave away blitzes,” McDonnell said of his team’s defense. “It was like reading a book for them: They were a step ahead of us the whole game.”
But McDonnell also acknowledged there were some silver linings in the loss, saying “We did a lot of things right in this football game. Made some plays and did some things.”
Now McDonnell has two weeks to build on those good things in preparing for Lehigh on Saturday, Sept. 13, in a 3:30 p.m. start at Cowell Stadium.