DURHAM — The University of New Hampshire football team lost an uncharacteristic five Colonial Athletic Association games last season.
So far, the Wildcats are two-for-two in avenging those defeats.
As schedule ironies go, the first four league games on the Wildcat schedule for this season were against teams they lost to last fall.
Game No. 3 on the payback tour is Saturday at Stony Brook at 6 p.m.
“We’ve lost to them two times in a row,” said senior running back and captain Evan Gray. “They have a really good home crowd energy. It’s another revenge game. They got us last year, really badly. They got us again the year before that. It’s time to step it up and be prepared, ready to play.”
UNH lost its first two games of the season on the road this year and has turned things around with three straight home wins and takes a 3-2 overall record and 2-0 mark in CAA play to Stony Brook.
The Wildcats play four of their next five games away from home in a daunting stretch. After playing the No. 22-ranked Seawolves on Saturday, they go to No. 19 Delaware on Saturday, Oct. 19 at 1 p.m.
UNH lost home games to Stony Brook (35-7) and Delaware (38-14) last season.
The Wildcats have cranked it up on defense in a big way the past couple of weeks. They held Duquesne to 50 yards rushing and allowed only a last-minute touchdown in a 23-6 win on Sept. 28 and last week against Elon the defense contributed a pair of TDs to the cause.
True freshman linebacker Oleh Manzyk returned an interception 55 yards for a score late in the first period on a play set up when senior defensive end Josh Kania harassed the quarterback into a bad pass. UNH’s next touchdown was on a 50-yard interception return by junior safety Evan Horn, who makes a habit of such plays.
Manzyk, playing in his fifth collegiate game, earned regional and national awards for his efforts. He was the CAA’s Rookie of the Week, the STATS FCS National Freshman of the Week and was named the winner of the New England Football Writers/Grinold Chapter Division I Gold Helmet Award.
Horn’s pick-six was the fourth of his career. UNH also had a pair of defensive touchdowns in a 35-24 win at home over James Madison last Nov. 9. Horn had one of them with a 75-yard return for a score.
Horn pointed to a couple of basics — including cutting down on big plays allowed — as factors in the defense’s success against Elon.
“I think the biggest thing for us is our tackling rate,” he said. “Coach (John Lyons, the defensive coordinator) mentioned that this past game was our best tackling ratio we’ve had since he’s been here. I think our missed tackle percentage was like six percent. We only missed four tackles through the whole game, which is really good. That’s obviously one factor. Eliminate X-plays. We only had two X-plays. That was a big thing for us.”
The Seawolves are averaging 30.3 points a game and are second in the CAA in rushing offense at 240.2 yards per game and total offense in at 471.5 yards per game.
Quarterback Tyquell Fields, a 6-foot-2 and 195-pound junior, is dangerous running and passing. He’s completed 65 of his 126 passes for 1,251 yards with eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. He’s rushed 51 times for 234 yards and a couple of scores.
UNH interim head coach Ricky Santos said freshman quarterback Max Brosmer, who has started UNH’s last four games, is good to go.
Brosmer left the Elon game late in the third quarter and redshirt freshman Bret Edwards replaced him and led the Wildcats to a couple of Jason Hughes field goals in the fourth.
“Max had an ankle injury from the week before and kind of reaggravated that during the game,” Santos said. “We felt like Bret was doing a really good job practicing as well. We wanted to protect him a little bit and make sure we got Bret in there and up to game speed. Max is healthy, he’s 100 percent and ready to go.”
Brosmer connected with junior tight end Nick Lorden for a 6-yard TD pass for UNH’s only offensive touchdown against Elon. He also was intercepted three times.
The Seawolves will be bringing pressure against Brosmer and the offensive line.
“We need to protect the quarterback, as we’ve been doing all year, and then find some ways to get the ball out of our hands in the passing game,” Santos said. “We’ve got to get the ball out quick and hopefully control the pace a little bit by continuing to run the ball well.”
The Wildcats will look to ride that formula, their defense and the momentum from the homestand streak, to a fourth straight win.
“We always pride ourselves on protecting the Dungeon when we’re at home,” Lorden said. “It’s good that we were able to sweep that. Now kind of the mentality is being road warriors and getting one in somebody else’s place. We owe these guys. They got us last year on Homecoming and two years ago when we were down there, so we’ve got to go there and steal one from them.”
The Wildcats have not had a four-game win streak, incidentally, since the 2014 season. That year, they lost their opener and then won 12 in a row.