DURHAM — As a player, Ricky Santos loved these games. He had great success in them, too.
The bigger the stage, the tougher the challenge, the better.
Santos, the interim head coach of the University of New Hampshire football team, leads his squad into its Football Bowl Subdivision test Saturday against Florida International University in Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami at 7 p.m. on ESPN3.
FBS schools can offer more scholarships and have more resources overall than Football Championship Subdivision schools such as UNH.
For nearly 20 years, the Wildcats have played one FBS opponent on the road a year and received a check well into six figures for doing so.
Santos was a redshirt freshman when he made his first UNH start at quarterback against Rutgers, an FBS opponent, on Sept. 11, 2004. He led the Wildcats to a 35-24 win and in his career went 3-0 against FBS teams with later wins at Northeastern and Marshall.
Saturday, Max Brosmer is scheduled to be the first true freshman to start a game at quarterback when he faces FIU.
“First and foremost, you’ve got to realize that all the pressure’s on them,” Santos said. “Besides the team and the administration and close friends and family that are traveling down to Miami, everyone else in the country expects us to lose and probably for it not to be close. I think that’s a great place for us to be. We can be free, not afraid to make mistakes. We can go out there. We can cut it loose. . . . Just got out there, have fun and don’t let the moment be too big for you.”
The Wildcats are coming off a 13-10 loss at Holy Cross last weekend in which they played impressive defense and scored their only touchdown in the fourth quarter to take a brief lead, but could not hold it.
Brosmer earned Saturday’s start off his performance in the opener against Holy Cross.
Redshirt freshman Bret Edwards started the game and played the first half.
Brosmer got his turn to start the second half and played the rest of the game.
He led the Wildcats out of a hole on the opening drive to their first points of the game, a 21-yard field goal by Jason Hughes that tied it 3-3.
A penalty on the kickoff had backed UNH up to its own 8-yard line to start the series.
“We were down in our own red zone, that was kind of nerve-wracking,” Brosmer said. “After that first drive, I kind of knew I could do it. After that first drive, I felt pretty confident I could do it.”
Both quarterbacks moved the team against Holy Cross.
Santos has said all along it’s been a close competition and said Edwards will likely get to play on Saturday as well.
The Wildcat defense came up with a couple of goal line stands that forced Holy Cross to settle for a pair of field goals and another that kept them out of the end zone late.
But Holy Cross came up with three turnovers — Edwards and Brosmer each had a pass intercepted and UNH sophomore running back Carlos Washington, Jr. fumbled the ball trying to get out of the end zone resulting in the only Holy Cross TD of the day.
The Wildcats did not cause a turnover and that will be among the focal points Saturday.
FIU is coached by former University of Miami, University of North Carolina and Cleveland Browns head coach Butch Davis and will be a hungry team
The Panthers are 0-2. They lost their opener at Tulane, 42-14, and fell at home to Western Kentucky, 20-14, last Saturday.
Last year, Florida International finished 9-4 overall and 6-2 in Conference USA and beat Toledo, 35-32, in the Bahamas Bowl.
Senior quarterback James Morgan passed for a school record 26 touchdowns last year. He has completed 22 of his 45 passes for 258 yards with one touchdown and one interception this year.
Morgan left the Western Kentucky game with an injury, but returned later in the game. The Wildcat defense is preparing to face either Morgan or his backup, sophomore Kaylan Wiggins.
UNH has split its last two games against FBS teams. The Wildcats lost at Colorado, 45-14 last season. They beat Georgia Southern, 22-12, in 2017.
“I think a lot of it is mental,” said senior linebacker Cameron Brusko, who made his first career start against Holy Cross and was one of the leaders of the defense. “We went into the Colorado game knowing we could be competitive and that can go a long way. That’s been our same attitude this week, knowing that we have nothing to lose. We’re going to put everything out there and try to beat this team. Go down to Florida and show them what New Hampshire’s all about.”
UNH is 6-10 overall against FBS competition.