Defense rules in UNH Blue-White spring game
DURHAM - The offense showed a few flashes, but for the most part it was a day for defense in Cowell Stadium on Saturday as the University of New Hampshire wrapped up its spring football session with the annual Blue-White game.
It was a defender who was not in the game - senior defensive lineman Jimmy Vailas out of Bedford and Kimball Union Academy in Meriden - who collected one of the team's most coveted awards in a ceremony prior to the contest.
Vailas was named the third winner of the Todd Walker Teammate Award. Walker's parents, Mark and Pam, were at the ceremony.
"One, he's a terrific kid and I can't say enough to that and I think everyone in the program knows it," said head coach Sean McDonnell. "Two, he's an unbelievable teammate. Kids look to him in the program for a lot of different things. ... He's a level-headed kid and a great leader."
The award carried extra meaning for Vailas who was great friends with Walker, a Wildcat wide receiver from Colorado who was shot and killed on March 18, 2011 in Boulder, Colo., while protecting a friend during an attempted robbery.
"It's totally an honor," Vailas said. "I was very choked up. I saw Mark and Pam and it's just hard because I used to be his best friend and now I'm winning an award for him."
Vailas is recovering from a neck injury and wore Walker's No. 80 jersey on the sidelines.
He was one of numerous Wildcats - including the three new captains and several offensive linemen - who sat out Saturday's game with various ailments.
Offensive lineman Seamus O'Neil out of Manchester Central, running back Chris Setian and safety Manny Asam were named as captains on Thursday morning.
The defense came up with three interceptions and recovered three fumbles.
"I thought the defense, especially the first team defense, flew around and did a nice job," McDonnell said. "They've wanted to be better after last year at the end of the season. They want to hold their own and they want to carry their load. I was happy for them today. They strained and did a good job."
Nick Cefalo, who will be a junior, sophomore Hayden Knudson and junior linebacker Shane McNeely had interceptions. Sophomore defensive tackle Rashid Armand, junior defensive end Robbie Zauck and wide receiver Justin Mello, on a fumbled punt, had the fumble recoveries.
Sophomore safety Keith Parkinson, junior safety Tim Pike, redshirt freshman linebacker Kevin McNally and Zauck had five tackles each.
Mike Kelly, a sophomore out of Merrimack and Bishop Guertin of Nashua, and runningbacks Dalton Crossan, a redshirt freshman, and Jimmy Owens, a junior, provided most of the offensive highlights.
Kelly had a pair of catches for 69 yards and caught the only touchdown pass of the day, a 24-yarder from redshirt freshman Chris McCormick.
"He (Kelly) can play multiple positions," McDonnell said. "He can play the slot and he can play running back. He's going to be a major guy on our special teams. He's starting to climb the ladder in the program and get what I think is significant playing time for a kid who didn't play his senior year of high school."
Kelly missed his senior year with a broken leg.
Crossan carried 15 times for 61 yards and scored the other two touchdowns in the game on a pair of 11-yard runs.
Owens rushed six times for 87 yards, including a game-high run of 51 yards.
Quarterbacks Andy Vailas, who will be a junior and is out of Bedford and Bishop Guertin in Nashua, and sophomore-to-be Sean Goldrich will carry their battle for the starting job into fall camp.
"They weren't very clean (today)," McDonnell said. "The whole spring I thought both of those guys were terrific. It's close. It's a good thing for us as coaches. We've got two quarterbacks I think can win in this conference. The tough thing for these guys is they've got to have a great summer and come back and we'll hopefully have a determination by the middle of camp."
Former UNH offensive coordinator and now Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly of Manchester watched the game from the east end zone. Kelly generally made it to the spring game while he was coaching at the University of Oregon, too. ... Vailas completed four of his seven passes for 29 yards and was intercepted once. Goldrich was five-for-11 passing for 31 yards.