Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: Defense the reason comeback happened
DURHAM -- VILLANOVA standout quarterback John Robertson had just shredded the New Hampshire defense for 32 yards combined on two straight runs and his 14-yard score extended his team’s lead to 14-6 before the second quarter reached its halfway point.
Manny Asam, a vocal and animated leader of the Wildcat defense, had seen enough.
He excitedly addressed the troops as they huddled on the sidelines, awaiting their next turn on the field.
“I was just telling them that I know everyone is all hyped up and full of energy, but you’ve got to be able to control that,” Asam said later outside the UNH locker room. “You’ve got to try and control your emotions and not try to do too much and that’s what we were doing. I was telling everyone just do your job and do the best you can. We started doing that and got some stops.”
Much was made of the wild finish that led to a tremendous last-minute rally capped by quarterback Sean Goldrich’s 4-yard touchdown run and Chris Setian’s two-point conversion that gave UNH a stunning and desperately needed 29-28 over No. 12-ranked Villanova on Saturday at Cowell Stadium.
And rightly so.
But the thrilling finish likely never would have happened if the UNH defense hadn’t managed to slow down Robertson, who got loose again at the end of the game and nearly won it.
“He’s really talented and that offense is difficult because of him,” said UNH defensive coordinator John Lyons. “I thought overall we did a pretty good job of containing him for a pretty good chunk of the game.”
Lyons cited the play of defensive linemen Matt Kaplan, the junior from Franklin, Sean McCann, Cody Muller and Jay Colbert, for its work up front and the defensive backfield for not letting passes get completed behind them.
After Robertson gave his team the 14-6 lead, the UNH defense held and forced Villanova to punt on its next four possessions.
The fourth punt pinned UNH on its 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter and Goldrich and the offense responded with 99-yard drive in 14 plays that ended with a TD pass to Jared Allison. The conversion kick by Mike MacArthur, the senior from North Hampton, was wide and UNH led 21-14 with 5:02 to play.
The craziness was about to begin.
UNH improved to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association.
The Wildcats, ranked No. 25 last week, may be able to slip into the FCS tournament with four losses, but things get a little dicey for teams with more than three defeats.
UNH has won its last two games, is 3-0 at home and has lost all three of its road games.
Then Wildcats are on the road for their next two games at Stony Brook and William & Mary, return home to play James Madison on Nov. 9, are at Albany on Nov. 16 and close out the regular season with Maine at home on Nov. 23.
Stony Brook and Albany are playing their first years in the CAA.
Stony Brook is 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the league. The Seawolves have wins over Rhode Island, 24-0, Bryant, 21-13 and Colgate 27-3. They lost to Buffalo, 26-23 in overtime, Villanova, 35-6, and Towson, 35-21.
“They’re a big, strong physical team,” said UNH coach Sean McDonnell on Sunday afternoon. “They’re talented and very physical on both sides of the ball.”
UNH takes a big hit up front when junior center Mike Coccia, a starter from the beginning of his redshirt freshman year, undergoes surgery for a torn rotator cuff today. He’s been playing with the injury, but is now done for the season.
“He’s the leader of the offensive line and makes all the calls,” McDonnell said. “He’s been very solid there since he got into the position.”
Redshirt freshman Tad McNeely will replace Coccia at center. Alexander Morrill, a redshirt freshman out of Lebanon, has started at guard the last couple of games and will likely take McNeely’s spot at guard.
THE men’s hockey team had a rough weekend results-wise.
The Wildcats played well in a two-game set at the Whittemore Center against No. 5-ranked Michigan, but came away with a 1-1 tie on Friday night and 3-2 loss in overtime on Saturday.
UNH is 1-2-1 and plays at Rensselaer on Saturday. The Engineers are 3-1-0 with a pair of wins over Sacred Heart, 6-0 and 7-1, and one at Boston University, 3-1, to go with a 7-2 loss at Boston College.
Junior Trevor van Riemsdyk leads UNH in scoring with five assists.
Senior forward Kevin Goumas scored both goals on Saturday night and is at 2-2-4 for the season.
He has 27 goals and 71 assists for 98 points and is closing in on becoming the team’s first 100-point scorer since Paul Thompson, Mike Sislo and Phil DeSimone all hit the mark during the 2010-11 season.
UNH has just the one game against RPI next weekend and then opens Hockey East play on Nov. 1 at UMass-Lowell. UNH and UMass-Lowell play in Durham the next night.
THE men’s soccer team lost its first America East game at UMBC, 1-0, on Saturday night. The Wildcats, 9-4 overall and 3-1 in the league, are at Albany on Saturday. . . . The women’s hockey team improved to 3-2-1 overall and 1-0-1 in Hockey East with a 3-1 win at Boston College on Wednesday night. UNH is at Penn State for games on Friday and Saturday. Sophomore Vilma Vaattovaara, a sophomore from Finland, had 36 saves for the win over BC and has a 1.47 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.
firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @AllenLessels