DURHAM — The University of New Hampshire football team aims to complete a sweep of its three-game homestand and give itself a boost heading into a challenging stretch of tests ahead when it faces Colonial Athletic Association foe Elon University on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium.
That it’s Homecoming Weekend in Durham just adds to the fun.
The Wildcats are all even with a 2-2 record and are 1-0 in the CAA and have nothing but league games remaining.
“Obviously the CAA is really tough, we know that and we have a gauntlet after this week of some really tough road games,” said interim head coach Ricky Santos. “All we can do right now is focus on the present. That’s defending our home turf.”
After losing its first two games at Holy Cross and Florida International, UNH has collected wins over Rhode Island and Duquesne at home and is looking to make it three straight.
“It’s always great to have Homecoming because we feel like this is such a special program where people come here and they’ve had a great experience,” Santos said. “Obviously winning helps in the experience, being successful. With all the guys coming back and showing their support for the team, I think it’s always good if we can put on a good show and ultimately win for everybody coming back, which would be nice.
Elon is 2-3 and received votes in the STATS Top 25 FCS poll this week after being ranked most of the season. The Phoenix lost at home to No. 2 James Madison, 45-10, last Saturday.
Manchester native Tony Trisciani, who did two stints as a Wildcat assistant coach, is in his first season as Elon’s head coach. In his second run with UNH, Trisciani helped recruit Santos out of Bellingham, Mass., to Durham.
Since 2008, the Wildcats have a 57-10 record at home (.851 winning percentage), including a 38-7 (.844) mark against league teams.
They had won nine straight Homecoming games before falling to Stony Brook last season and they are 15-5 at Wildcat Stadium since it opened for the 2016 season.
An impressive performance by the defense led to last week’s 23-6 win over Duquesne. Only a last-minute touchdown kept the unit from its first shutout of the season.
Not only did the Wildcats allow Duquesne only 10 total yards of offense in the first half and 50 yards rushing and 233 yards total for the game, but the defense came away with interceptions by Prince Smith Jr. and safety Pop Bush.
What’s more, the defense had a season-high five quarterback sacks. They group had four for the season going into the game.
“I felt we were pressuring the quarterback a lot better, causing the passes to be broken up or not going where the quarterback wanted,” said senior defensive end Josh Kania. “We were doing a lot of power rushes, too, so even though we weren’t getting there every play, we were causing him to not be able to step up in this throws.”
Kania had a half a sack in the game and senior defensive end Brian Carter had a pair of them.
The Wildcats will be out for a little payback against the Phoenix. Elon was ranked No. 11 when the teams met last year. UNH was struggling and fell to 0-4 on the season with a 30-9 loss on Sept. 29 in North Carolina.
The Phoenix had 193 yards rushing in that game and 451 total yards of offense. UNH had 218 yards of offense, including 44 yards rushing, in last year’s game.
So far this year, UNH is averaging 179.7 yards rushing a game and 383. 3 total yards.
True freshman quarterback Max Brosmer and a balanced offense are coming along.
“Being inexperienced at the quarterback and receiver position, those are the two focal points right now,” Santos said. “We’ve got to continue to grow. We’ve got to make plays down the field. We’ve got to not just be a team that’s one dimensional. We know we can run the football. We know we can lean on three really good backs and some tough physical guys up front, but can we take the next step now and win the game through the air and get the ball in the end zone?”
The Wildcats scored once in three trips into the red zone against Duquesne last week and are last in the league in red zone offense.
“A lot of stuff’s been self-inflicted,” Santos said. “We’ve jumped offsides. A false start penalty last week. We’ve had some drops. I think we’re doing the right things. I think it’s just them getting more and more comfortable and getting some game reps under their belts, some more experience and they can understand they can take a deep breath when it’s time to get down there and finish those drives off.”
On the plus side, on their eight touchdowns this season — four by pass and four by rush — the Wildcats avoided the red zone altogether on three. Redshirt freshman running back Dylan Laube scored on an 86-yard pass play from Brosmer against FIU, senior Malik Love on a 78-yarder from Bromser against Rhode Island and senior running back Evan Gray on a 72-yard run against Duquesne.
In addition, Jason Hughes, a Timberlane Regional High product, kicked a career-best three field goals, including a career-long 45-yarder last week. He’s the first UNH kicker with three in a game since Mike MacArthur had three against Albany on Nov. 16, 2013.