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October 24. 2013 9:06PM

Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: Gridders looking ahead — in a good way

DURHAM -- The last-minute drive to a 4-yard Sean Goldrich touchdown run and then a two-point conversion by Chris Setian with 14 seconds left to play for a thrilling 29-28 win over Villanova on Saturday at Cowell Stadium were wonderful.

And yesterday’s news.

“The thing that’s significant is that it got us to 3-3,” said University of New Hampshire head football coach Sean McDonnell during his weekly press conference on Wednesday.

That, he said, was mission one against a very good football team.

“It’s all well and good, but as I told the team on Sunday afternoon, what we’ve done the last two weeks will mean nothing if we don’t go play well this week and do what we’re supposed to do,” McDonnell said.

“Get rid of it. And I think the kids did a pretty good job of doing that.”

He might have added it will mean nothing if the Wildcats don’t go play well the next five weeks and do what they’re supposed to do.

Not that McDonnell didn’t get a kick out of the wild rally and the way the team completed its comeback, mind you.

But the Wildcats have made getting to the FCS tournament a measuring stick for success over the last decade and when they slipped to 1-3 after the first month of the season, things were not looking good for a 10th straight trip to the playoffs.

McDonnell’s team is far from out of the woods, but wins over Rhode Island and Villanova have it back to .500 with another five games to go in the regular season.

The Wildcats, ranked No. 20 in The Sports Network poll this week, must win at least four of the games and may need to win all five to get into the tournament.

Teams from their league, the Colonial Athletic Association, generally qualify for the national event if they have three or fewer loses.

Teams with four losses have a shot, but there are a lot of variables involved at that point and it’s far from a sure thing.

The immediate challenge is to start winning on the road.

The Wildcats play at Stony Brook, 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the CAA, on Saturday and at William & Mary, 4-3 and 1-2, next week.

UNH has lost all three of its road games so far this year and its last four overall. Its last win away from Cowell came a year ago Sunday at Rhode Island.

The Wildcats lost at Wofford in the FCS playoffs last season.

They have fallen at Central Michigan (24-21), Lehigh (34-27) and Towson (44-28) this season.

“Three things jump out at you in all three games,” McDonnell said.

“One, turnovers, two, x-plays (plays of over 20-25 yards) in the pass game against us and three, not being able to finish games.”

UNH lost an interception and a fumble against Central Michigan and had four turnovers against Towson with a couple of fumbles and a couple of interceptions.

“Then we gave up big pass plays against Central Michigan and Lehigh and against Towson gave up big runs,” McDonnell said. “You can’t do that. It’s pretty clear what we’ve got to do. It’s simple to state, but it’s not easy.”

Stony Brook is in its first year in the CAA and allows 18.7 points a game, the second-lowest total in the league. The Seawolves score 20.3, which is ninth-best.

Goldrich, who won the New England Gold Helmet Award this week for his impressive work against Villanova, will start at quarterback for UNH. Andy Vailas, the junior from Bedford, is not 100 percent as he comes back from arthroscopic surgery on his knee, but will be able to back Goldrich up, McDonnell said.

- - - - - - - -

THE men’s hockey team, ranked No. 14 this week in the USCHO poll, plays its fourth straight game against a ranked opponent when its takes on No. 12 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., on Saturday night.

The Wildcats, 1-2-1, played well in their last three games against Minnesota and Michigan, but have little to show for the efforts. UNH lost in the championship of the Ice Breaker Tournament to host Minnesota, 3-2, two weeks ago. The Wildcats tied Michigan, 1-1, last Friday night at home and lost 3-2 in overtime to the Wolverines on Saturday night.

“You get into overtime in the second game and you’re one shot away from a great weekend and one shot away from where we weren’t satisfied,” said junior forward Casey Thrush.

Minnesota has moved up to No. 1 in the USCHO rankings and Michigan is No. 4.

RPI is 3-1-0 with wins over Sacred Heart, 6-0 and 7-1, and Boston University, 3-1. The Engineers lost at Boston College, 7-2.

alessels@unionleader.com. On Twitter: AllenLessels


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