College Football: Finishing touch is UNH aim
The University of New Hampshire football team lost its opener at Central Michigan, 24-21, when it coughed up the ball late and the Chippewas marched the other way to a last-second winning field goal.
The Wildcats fell at Lehigh last week, 34-27, when they failed to capitalize on a 27-13 third period lead and later advanced inside the Lehigh 15-yard line before their drive came up short in the final minutes.
The two losses have UNH at 1-2 and in an early-season hole going into their first Colonial Athletic Association game today at noon at touted Towson.
"It's about finishing," said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. "It's about finishing drives, finishing quarters, finishing halves and finishing games. It's something we've been pretty good at over the years. . . . We've got to find better ways to complete the mission. That's the big thing right now."
Time is of the essence.
Towson is 5-0 and ranked No. 2 in one national poll and No. 3 in the other. Led by bruising running back Terrance West, the Tigers have their way against UNH the last two seasons, winning 64-35 in Durham last year and 56-42 at Towson two years ago.
The Wildcats have qualified for the FCS playoffs each of the last nine years — a mark that is best in the country — and can ill afford another loss in their quest to make that 10 straight.
If they lose today, chances are they will have to win out in their last seven games, starting next Saturday with a home game against Rhode Island, to get a tournament bid.
UNH's streak of 131 weeks ranked in The Sports Network's Top 25 — by far the nation's longest — may also be on the line. The Wildcats slipped in the rankings to No. 19 last week and another loss may knock them out.
UNH's offense needs to get things done today, to try and keep pace with West and his offense, against an improved and impressive Towson defense.
The Tigers give up just 70.8 yards rushing a game, which is the best average in the CAA. That's up against UNH's rushing offense, led by junior Nico Steriti and his 6.2 yards per carry, which is averaging a league-best 236.7 yards a game.
West leads the league at 129.6 yards a game and has already scored 12 touchdowns.
Towson is allowing 14 points a game, second in the CAA to the 9.2 of William & Mary. Opponents have scored 27 points a game against UNH.
The Tigers are averaging a league-high 40.2 points a game and UNH, behind junior quarterback Andy Vailas of Bedford, is third at 33.7.
Towson leads the league in turnover margin at plus-4.
The Wildcats will look to keep improving their turnover numbers. They lost three fumbles and had two interceptions in their first two games.
Last week, they did not turn the ball over and recovered one fumble and intercepted a pass against Lehigh. They are even in turnover margin.
UNH would love to match last year's start against Towson — Vailas scored on a 77-yard run on the first play of the game — but change the final outcome.
Towson led 30-28 at the half and then turned it on in the second.
The Tigers finished with a whopping 415 rushing yards — West carried 19 times for 236 yards and a couple of scores — and 660 yards of total offense.
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Dartmouth, 1-1 overall, opens Ivy League schedule today at 1 at Penn, also 1-1. The Quakers are the defending Ivy champs and were picked in the preseason poll to win another. Dartmouth was picked fourth. . . . St. Anselm, 0-4 overall and 0-3 in the Northeast-10, plays at Bentley, 2-2 and 1-2, today at 1. . . . Plymouth State, 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the MASCAC, plays Westfield State, 2-1 and 1-0, in its Homecoming game today at 2.