Allen Lessels UNH Notebook: Wildcats' foe reeling from big loss
NEWLY NAMED starting quarterback Andy Vailas, the junior out of Bedford and Bishop Guertin High School of Nashua, leads the University of New Hampshire into its season opener in Mount Pleasant, Mich., on Saturday to take on Central Michigan University.
The Wildcats are going to run into an angry — and hurting — bunch of Chippewas there.
Central Michigan, a Football Bowl Subdivision team, got spanked, 59-6, in its first game on Saturday at the University of Michigan.
"It was obviously not the way any of us wanted to play," said Central Michigan coach Dan Enos in the Mid-American Conference media call on Monday morning.
Worse yet, by the end of the first quarter, two of the key members of the Central Michigan offense were on the sideline with injuries. They won't be back soon.
Enos said that with lots of work and rehabilitation and some luck, perhaps junior quarterback Cody Kater, who had won the starting quarterback job, and stud senior running back Zurlon Tipton would make it back by the end of the season.
The Detroit News reported on Sunday that Kater had a broken collarbone and Tipton a broken ankle.
Sophomore Alex Niznak took over for Kater on Saturday and sophomore Saylor Lavallii, 5-foot-9 and 213 pounds, moved into the top running back spot. Niznak completed 11 of his 21 passes for 131 yards and had an interception. Lavallii picked up 52 yards in 10 carries.
UNH coach Sean McDonnell does not expect the losses to change Central Michigan's approach.
"They're a big, strong football team and they like to run the football," McDonnell said "They're going to do what they do best. These are tough, tough losses. A strength of their team is the offensive line and tight ends. They will pound the football. If we're going to have a shot, we have to stop the run."
The Wildcats will counter with their balanced offense, under the direction of Vailas.
Vailas and sophomore Sean Goldrich competed for the starting job all least season and through the offseason, too.
Going into last season's opener, Goldrich won the job largely because of his understanding of the offense.
On Friday, McDonnell announced that Vailas was going to be the starting quarterback in part because of his explosiveness and ability to make big plays.
"We felt that Andy gave us a little extra there," McDonnell said.
Vailas passed for 18 touchdowns and had just three interceptions last season. He also ran for six scores and was UNH's third-leading rusher.
The quarterbacks made it a difficult decision all through the process, McDonnell said.
Goldrich will play at least a series against Central Michigan and in UNH's other games, the coach said.
MCDONNELL was happier with the play of UNH's defense in its final scrimmage on Thursday than he had been during earlier scrimmage sessions. In part that was because of the return of junior Nick Cefalo and Hayden Knudsen, who had sat out earlier with injuries.
He also likes the work junior Brian Ciccone has been doing at defensive end in a mix with seniors Cody Muller and Jay Colbert.
Ciccone has played defensive end at times at UNH but had been playing on offense at tight end until junior Robbie Zauck went down with a knee injury during camp.
"I think it's a good move for this program, not just short term, but long term, as you look down the line with Muller and Colbert graduating next year," McDonnell said.
Ciccone, 6-foot-3 and 253 pounds, is enjoying the switch.
"I like running to the ball," he said. "Going after the quarterback, there's nothing better than that."
THE VOLLEYBALL TEAM, which went 2-1 in a tournament at Lehigh over the weekend, is at Northeastern tonight. The Wildcats host their annual Holly Young Invitational tournament this weekend. They play Brown on Friday night at 7 and on Saturday face St. John's at 12:30 p.m. and Missouri State at 7 p.m. . . . The women's soccer team takes a 1-3 record into a home game against Northeastern on Bremner Field on Thursday at 7 p.m. The Wildcats play Massachusetts at home on Saturday.
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