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College Football: Loss has UNH on playoff bubble

Special to the Union Leader

November 18. 2017 8:06PM

ALBANY, N.Y. - If the University of New Hampshire football team wanted to make a final statement to the NCAA Tournament selection committee, getting shut out by an opponent that's lost six games in a row wasn't the way to do it.

But that's exactly what happened to the Wildcats in a 15-0 loss to the University at Albany before 3,459 fans at Casey Stadium on Saturday.

UNH's regular-season finale might have been its last game, period, for the first time since 2003. The Wildcats will gather as a team Sunday at 11 a.m. to watch the Football Championship Subdivision playoff selection show on ESPNU. They've got the longest active streak in the country with 13 consecutive appearances in the tournament.

It'll be a restless wait for the Wildcats (7-4 overall, 5-3 Colonial Athletic Association) to see if they're in the 24-team bracket after Saturday's performance.

"I'm very disappointed," UNH head coach Sean McDonnell said. "We're all disappointed. That's the tough thing about this game and this league. You're going to a place (Albany) that people are saying, 'They're playing for pride.' They're a really good football team. And we're playing for something that's very important, to have an opportunity to advance and play in the tournament. It's going to be a long ride home to think about somebody else has got our fate in their hands right now, and that's a huge pill to swallow when I know we're good enough to be in the tournament."

UNH didn't play like it on Saturday, at least on the offensive side of the ball. The Wildcats entered the game ranked second in the CAA in passing offense. But the Great Danes (4-7, 2-6) held Wildcats junior quarterback Trevor Knight, of Amherst, to 133 yards and no touchdown passes and sacked him eight times.

The Wildcats finished with minus-11 yards rushing.

"It was very tough,'' Knight said. "We couldn't get anything going. They were putting a lot of man coverage, too, so we've got to take time to win our routes and by that time, they were in my face. Statistically, they were like the No.2 defense in our conference, so we knew what we were going into. We knew this was a very good football and they just haven't won a lot of games for some reason."

The main reason was a dismal UAlbany offense that hadn't scored an offensive touchdown three times during its six-game winless stretch. For the most part, UNH's defense kept the Great Danes in check with 265 yards and only one touchdown.

But that lone touchdown was a back-breaker as UAlbany quarterback Will Brunson, under pressure, found wide receiver Austin Ellis wide-open down the middle for a 54-yard touchdown and a 12-0 lead with 8:28 left in the third quarter.

"We played pretty well, but if they don't score, they don't win,'' said UNH sophomore linebacker Quinlen Dean, who had a team-high 15 tackles. "And we allowed them to score, so as one of the leaders of the defense, we will take responsibility for that."

Albany's Ethan Stark kicked field goals of 27 yards in the second quarter and 38 yards in the fourth. The Great Danes got their other two points on a safety when the ball was snapped over UNH punter Max Pedinoff's head and rolled out of the end zone in the third quarter.

The Wildcats, ranked 14th in the coaches poll and 16th in the STATS media poll, were shut out for the second time this season. They were also blanked in a 21-0 loss at James Madison on Oct. 28. That was an understandable defeat to the defending FCS national champion. This one might leave UNH on the outside looking into the postseason for the first time in 14 years.

"It (the streak) is not something we really talk about, but something we always have a little chip on our shoulder thinking about that,'' Knight said. "We had set the table great for ourselves today to seal the deal, but we didn't, so we just have to wait."