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October 31. 2013 10:13PM

Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: UNH gridders hope to keep moving up

DURHAM --- In its seventh game of the season last Saturday at Stony Brook, the University of New Hampshire football team finally went over the .500 mark for the year.

The Wildcats beat Stony Brook, 31-13, for their third straight win and are now 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association.

They’re at No. 16 in The Sports Network this week and will try to keep moving up in the national polls — and in the CAA standings — in games against teams from Virginia in the next two weeks.

It won’t be easy.

The Wildcats are on the road to Williamsburg, Va., today and take on always-tough William & Mary in Zable Stadium on Saturday at 1:30.

Next Saturday, James Madison comes to Durham and Cowell Stadium. William & Mary and James Madison own matching records of 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the CAA and both are fighting, along with UNH, to stay alive in the race for berths in the FCS playoffs.

The Wildcats, thanks in part to their offensive and defensive lines, have worked their way back into the playoff picture. But they need at least three more wins — and four to take any risk out of the equation — to lock up a spot in the tournament.

UNH coach Sean McDonnell is 0-4 as a head coach in games at William & Mary. He had lost all nine games he had coached against the Tribe until Nico Steriti scored on a 19-yard run with less than five minutes left to play to provide the winning margin in last year’s game, 28-25, in Durham.

The Wildcats are averaging 228.4 yards rushing on the ground and will try, as usual, to get a ground game going against a very good William & Mary defensive line and defense overall.

“We’re seeing some real good defensive lines,” McDonnell said.

The offensive line played without junior center Mike Coccia for the first time in three years last week. A starter since his first game of his redshirt freshman, Coccia is done for the year after having rotator cuff surgery early last week.Alexander Morrill, a 6-foot-2 and 299-pound redshirt freshman out of Lebanon, has helped solidify the line has played well against those tough defensive lines.

“He keeps getting better, inch by inch,” McDonnell. “He’s a big, strong kid and he can handle that stuff.”Tad McNeely, another redshirt freshman, moved over from guard to take Coccia’s spot at center. Morrill will start his fourth straight game at left guard against William & Mary. The first two starts came when Morrill took over for McNeely, who was out for a couple of games.

Left tackle Seamus O’Neill, the senior and co-captain out of Manchester Central, senior left guard Ricky Archer and junior right tackle Rob Bowman have each started all seven games at their positions.

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The men’s hockey team has dug itself a bit of a hole to open the season when it comes to its overall record.

The Wildcats will try to get off to a better start in Hockey East play.

They play their first league game tonight at 7:15 at the Tsongas Center in Lowell against UMass-Lowell. The two teams meet again on Saturday night at 7 at the Whittemore Center at UNH.

The River Hawks ended UNH’s season last year when freshman goalie Connor Hellebuyck made 28 saves for a 2-0 win in the Northeast Regional final at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.

Hockey East teams only play each other two times this season, for a total of 20 league games compared to 27 in years past, putting added importance on each contest.

“You’ve got to make them count,” said UNH coach Dick Umile.

The Wildcats fell to 1-3-1 with a 4-2 loss at Rensselaer on Saturday and dropped out of the USCHO Top 20 rankings this week.

“We know that we have the right pieces in there,” said sophomore forward Dan Correale. “We’ve just got to put it together a bit better.

We know we can do that, so I don’t think our confidence has taken a hit at all.”

Lowell started the season ranked No. 1, but went 1-3-0 in its first four games. The River Hawks came up with a pair of wins last weekend, 4-1 on Friday at Michigan State and 2-1 at Michigan on Saturday, and is ranked No. 15.

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UNH director of athletics Marty Scarano will take part in a Town Hall-style discussion of Ed O’Bannon’s class action civil lawsuit against the NCAA and the future of college athletics on Tuesday at the UNH School of Law in Concord.

O’Bannon argues that current and former Division I men’s basketball and football players should be paid for their images and likenesses used in broadcasts, video games, trading cards and other commercial ventures.The discussion is in conjunction with Sports Illustrated and B.J. Schechter, executive editor at Sports Illustrated and SI.com, will be the moderator. Panelists also include Michael McCann and Alexandra Roberts of the UNH School of Law.

The event is free and open to the public and reservations may be made at ip.center@law.unh.edu.

alessels@unionleader.com On Twitter: @AllenLessels


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