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NH College Football: Looks aren't everything for UNH's O'Connor

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 13. 2017 11:53PM
UNH's Neil O'Connor catches a first quarter pass as William & Mary's Aaron Swinton defends during an October 2016 game. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER FILE)

Earlier this week, University of New Hampshire football coach Sean McDonnell said wide receiver Neil O’Connor “isn’t much to look at.” On Wednesday, McDonnell went so far as to compare O’Connor to the character Woody Harrelson played in “White Men Can’t Jump.”

“The problem is he’s a scraggly-looking guy, but the kid can play his tail off,” McDonnell said. “Very, very high IQ for football and athletics. The more you’re around the guy the more you love him.”

McDonnell certainly loved O’Connor’s production in Saturday’s 22-12 victory over Georgia Southern. O’Connor, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior who wears his hair long, caught a career-high 11 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles. He has 82 receptions for 1,067 yards in his UNH career (27 games). He was also honored Wednesday with the New England Football Writers Gold Helmet for his performance on Saturday.

“I didn’t hear that, but I figured that out on my own,” O’Connor said when he was asked about the comments McDonnell made about about him. “I’ve seen myself on film. I’ve kinda been like that my whole life. … I’ve never thought too much about that. Just tried to play. Just tried to work on the little things that will get me open. I definitely know where he’d be coming from when he says that.”

O’Connor began his collegiate career as a defensive back, but moved to wide receiver following freshman season. He’ll be looking to have another productive game Saturday, when UNH (2-0, 1-0 CAA) plays a nonconference game at Holy Cross (1-1, 1-0 Patriot League).

UNH won a 39-28 shootout with Holy Cross last season. Holy Cross quarterback Peter Pujals completed 42 of 64 passes for 427 yards and three touchdowns in the loss.

Although he was a senior last year, Pujals missed the final seven games of the 2016 season because of a cracked fibula and was granted a medical redshirt that allowed him to return for a fifth season this year. He led the Patriot League with 3,195 yards passing during the 2015 season, when he tossed a career-high 28 TD passes.

“If you watch the tape the way they run their offense, what they call these RPOs — the run/pass options — he knows right where everybody is,” McDonnell said. “And last year if you were here for the game, that first quarter and second quarter it was stealing. He just knew what we were going to be in. Knew how to do it.”

Holy Cross had Connecticut on the ropes before dropping a 27-20 decision in its opener. UConn scored the final 20 points in that game. The Crusaders bounced back by beating Bucknell 20-0 last weekend.

Pujals has completed 49 of 89 passes for 536 yards and one TD this season. He’s been intercepted twice.

“Really poised, really composed quarterback,” UNH linebacker Mike Balsamo said. “We definitely have a good understanding of what he can do. He can make tough throws. He can make NFL-caliber throws.”

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Plymouth State can raise its record to 3-0 with a victory at Western Connecticut State on Saturday ( 4 p.m.). Western Connecticut opened its season with a 48-47 loss at Hartwick on Sept. 2 and did not play last weekend.

The Panthers have have outscored their opponents 58-7 in their two victories. Plymouth State wide receiver Jacob Szulc leads the MASCAC in touchdown receptions with five. Szulc is a Concord resident who played football for Concord High School.

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Although Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc throughout Florida, Dartmouth is still scheduled to open its season at Stetson (DeLand, Fla.) on Saturday (6 p.m.). There was some talk about possibly moving the game to Hanover because Stetson’s trip home following Saturday’s 38-17 loss at Marist (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) was delayed until Tuesday. The loss to Marist dropped Stetson to 0-2.

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St. Anselm will play its home opener Saturday (1 p.m.) against New Haven. The Hawks fell to 0-2 overall (0-1 in the NE-10) following last Saturday’s 50-14 loss at Bentley. New Haven (1-1, 0-1) is coming off a 35-34 loss to LIU Post. Former St. Anselm quarterback Yianni Gavalas completed 41 of 54 passes for 405 yards and four TDs for LIU Post in that game.

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The Collegiate Sprint Football League expanded from one to two divisions in the offseason. Franklin Pierce, which will open its season Saturday (noon) at home against Mansfield, is in the North Division with Army, Cornell and Post. Navy, Penn, Mansfield, Chestnut Hill and Caldwell are in the South Division. The division winners will meet in the CSFL championship game. The league’s weight limit was also raised from 172 pounds to 178 pounds this season.