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College Football: UNH adds another signature win

Special to the Union Leader

September 10. 2017 11:34PM
UNH quarterback Trevor Knight and the Wildcats defeated FBS foe Georgia Southern on Saturday, 22-12. (Courtesy UNH Athletics)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Last week, University of New Hampshire football coach Sean McDonnell reminisced when asked about his team’s 2004 win at Georgia Southern University and called it one of the best victories in his 19-year tenure as the man in charge of the Wildcats.

Saturday, his Wildcats went out and knocked off Georgia Southern again — this time by a score of 22-12 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., when the site had to be changed because of Hurricane Irma — for another signature triumph for the program.

“The kids just played,” said McDonnell, back in the office on Sunday afternoon. “They didn’t worry about anything but playing football and that was a good thing. I think our kids expected to win and believed they could win.”

Then there’s the rest of the story.

“The biggest thing for the kids is understanding the 24-hour thing,” McDonnell said. “We’ve got to wipe this one clean. Now we’re heading into the heart of the FCS part of our schedule. We’ll talk today and then start to get ready for our next one.”

UNH plays at Holy Cross on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Last year, the Wildcats came from behind and then held off the Crusaders, 39-28, to open the new Wildcat Stadium with a bang.

McDonnell’s team will take a 2-0 record into game three of the season for the first time since 2009.

That was also the last year UNH beat the FBS team on its schedule. Teams at the FCS level such as UNH often step up for a game against an FBS team and earn a cash payment for going on the road to play the contest.

The Wildcats opened the 2009 season with a home win over St. Francis and then beat Ball State, an FBS team, on the road, 23-16.

This year’s group of seniors had lost their FBS games to Central Michigan when they were true freshmen and then Toledo, San Jose State and San Diego State.

“My whole career we’ve never beaten one of these FBS teams,” said defensive tackle Rick Holt. “No disrespect to Georgia Southern, but they just moved up a couple of years ago and we thought we kind of had a chance. We also got them away from their home field. Then we came out and executed pretty well. It’s huge for us to finally end that drought. It’s a huge win for all of us when we can come back later and have a win over an FBS team. No one can take that away from us.”

There was much to like in the manner the Wildcats won, too.

They did it with no turnovers and with a fast start that turned into a 22-0 lead at the half.

They did it with a big game from junior wide receiver Neil O’Connor — he had 11 of the team’s 13 pass receptions and scored a pair of touchdowns on passes from junior quarterback Trevor Knight — with fellow wide receiver Malik Love sidelined with a hamstring injury.

They did it with a team effort on defense against a team that loves to run the ball, after they had a tough time with their tackling against Maine.

And they did it while showcasing new dark blue helmets with a throwback NH decal on the side for the first time.

“I thought we did a good job of securing the football,” McDonnell said. “We played decently on special teams and on defense we kept the ball inside and in front of us most of the game. They had one long quarterback run late, but in everything else we contained the run game pretty much. We tackled well in open space and kept the ball inside.”

The coach liked the effort overall.

“The kids did what we asked them to do on both sides of the ball and I thought we played real hard again,” McDonnell said. “I was real proud of the way we played. We played smart and did all of the things we needed to do to win a tough game on the road.”

McDonnell cited the play of a crew of safeties that included sophomore Rick Ellison, senior D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie, sophomore Pop Lacey, redshirt freshman Evan Horn and senior Geno Miller and defensive ends junior Jae’Wuan Horton, sophomore Josh Kania and redshirt freshman and Brian Carter in particular.

“I thought it was a real good team effort on defense,” McDonnell said. “Guys picked each other up.”

And those new helmets?

Holt and McDonnell said the players loved them and were excited about breaking them out.

“I’m a firm believer it’s what’s inside the helmet and the uniform that makes all the difference,” McDonnell said with a laugh. “I’m much more worried about that.”

And no, he’s not sure when they will return.

“I don’t have any idea,” McDonnell said. “But I know one thing. We’re 1-0 in them. I’m sure we’ll wear them at least one more time.”