Today, vs. Albany: Kuehl, Reisert among Granite Staters playing in Durham finale.
DURHAM — You have quarterback Trevor Knight out of Nashua South High School and his favorite target, Neil O’Connor, both of whom rank well inside the Top 10 on a couple of University of New Hampshire career lists of offensive accomplishments.
You have the three captains, whose hometowns span the East Coast: linebacker Jared Kuehl from Plymouth; defensive end Jae’Wuan Horton from Stafford, Va.; and running back Trevon Bryant from St. Augustine, Fla.
There are wide receiver Kieran Presley along with linemen on the defensive side in Kyle Reisert — Kuehl’s longtime buddy from Plymouth — and Ryan Sosnak out of Pennsylvania and on the offensive side in Cam Smith, who helped solidify the line as a graduate transfer from Lehigh, and Dayne Herron along with tight end John DiCaro.
UNH’s football seniors will be honored before today’s Senior Day and UNH Salutes/Military Appreciation game against the University at Albany at 1 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium.
“It’s huge,” said sophomore offensive lineman Jack Carroll. “The last game at home of the season is really something you want to play hard for: The seniors, you’ve got to get them out of here with a win, good memories of ‘The Dungeon.’”
The Wildcats bring a 3-6 overall record and 2-4 mark in the Colonial Athletic Association into the game and are looking for a strong finish to a tough season. They are coming off their two best games of the season, impressive wins at Villanova (34-0) and at home against No. 3 James Madison (35-24) last Saturday.
Albany is 2-7 overall and 0-6 in the CAA.
The Wildcats jumped James Madison early. A fumble caused by junior linebacker Quinlen Dean led to a Knight to Presley 23-yard TD pass less than three minutes into the game and then junior safety Rick Ellison picked off a pass and returned it 44 yards to a score and UNH led 14-0 before the game was five minutes old.
The defense kept rolling from there and created six turnovers overall — UNH’s most in a game since 2012 — and the defense added another TD when sophomore safety Evan Horn went 75 yards with an interception return in the second period.
Dean loved that the Wildcats played aggressively and got out to a fast start.
“It does feel great to be a frontrunner — and not play conservatively,” he said. “It felt great as a leader on the defense to go after people and know we’re dominating this game. JMU knew that as well. We dominated them.”
He liked the overall approach.
“One thing I also loved about our sideline and being in the locker room is that we still have a fighting competitiveness on our team,” Dean said. “People might have thought we were down or were just going to lay down for James Madison. I loved to see our entire team just fight and continue to be dogs out there on the field.”
Now come the Great Danes.
There’s a payback angle to this one.
Albany has won the last two games in the series. Last year, the Great Danes beat UNH, 15-0, in Albany. The year, before, they came from behind in the second half and won, 36-25, messing up UNH’s Senior Day.
Two years ago, Albany running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, 5-foot-8 and 194 pounds, carried 39 times for 298 yards and three touchdowns.
Ibitokun-Hanks missed last year with injuries and is back this year as a junior and is joined in the backfield by Karl Mofor, who played high school football with UNH’s Dean. Ibitokun-Hanks has 692 rushing yards for the season and Mofor has 444.
Senior Vincent Testaverde, the son of NFL quarterback Vinny, has played eight games for the Great Danes and has passed for 11 touchdowns and been intercepted 12 times. He spent a season at Texas Tech and two at the University of Miami before transferring to Albany.
Freshman Jeff Undercuffler started at quarterback for the Great Danes last week against Delaware and completed 15 of his 28 passes for 171 yards and was intercepted twice in a 21-16 loss.
The Wildcats will look to stop Ibitokun-Hanks and Albany, build off last week’s triumph and continue their late-season surge.
“It’s a huge confidence builder,” Dean said of the JMU win. “It’s great to go and dominate like we did last week and the week before. Just putting everything together and just playing the way we’re capable of playing. It just shows people that we’re better than what we put on paper earlier in the season.”
There was an extra bonus to last week’s win.
“It was the greatest feeling,” Dean said. “I don’t know how many people know about this, but the best part about that was Coach Mac dancing in the middle of the circle (in the locker room). It was just amazing. We haven’t been able to beat JMU over the last three years so being able to accomplish that task was huge for us. . . . He threw some moves in there. I give him credit for it.”
Today, the Wildcats will try to repeat the win, if not the dance party, and send their seniors out of Wildcat Stadium with a victory.
“It’s a great day for everybody,” McDonnell said. “It’s a sad day for everybody, too. It’s funny to see them running through the line of people and seeing them get introduced and seeing their moms and dads, people you’ve had four, five, six years of connection with because of the recruiting process. Things change an awful lot over five years. You’ve got people who have invested an awful lot in UNH football and given a lot of themselves and that’s families, too. Travel, coming to games, giving up their summers. It’s a huge commitment. It’s very sad when you see these people that are leaving the program that you really like being around, at least three or four hours a day for the most part, probably 330 days a year.”