Allen Lessels UNH Notebook: And now, no room for error
FAITHFUL followers of the University of New Hampshire football team should not be making alternative plans for the Saturday after Thanksgiving just yet.
True, Saturday's 17-0 loss at William & Mary — the first time the Wildcats had been shut out in 220 games and 18 years since the Tribe also did it in 1995 — dealt a major blow to UNH's chances of qualifying for the FCS tournament for a 10th straight season.
The task ahead is challenging, though, to say the least.
The Wildcats, ranked No. 16 last week, dropped to 4-4 overall for the season and to 3-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association and lost any cushion they might have had.
There's no room for error. UNH must win its last three games and then hope its body of work for the season convinces the NCAA selection committee the Wildcats are worthy of an at-large bid.
The fact two of the last three games are against highly touted teams can make the resume that much stronger.
There is other good news, too.
First, the tournament expands this year from 20 to 24 teams. Eight teams will receive byes and 16 others will play first-round games on Nov. 30.
Second, the two toughest teams left on the schedule are both coming to play at Cowell Stadium, where UNH has lost only once in the last two and a half seasons and twice since 2008.
The problem now is beating James Madison, Albany and Maine the next three Saturdays. The road game among the three is at Albany, which is 1-8 overall and 0-5 in the CAA.
James Madison improved to 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the league with a 31-21 win over Villanova at home on Saturday.
"That win was huge for them," UNH coach Sean McDonnell said on Sunday.
"They've put themselves in a position where they're it fighting for a championship and fighting for the playoffs. They've got a real good defense and a heckuva team."
Maine needed a fourth-quarter touchdown to come from behind and knock off Stony Brook, 19-14, at home on Saturday.
The No. 10-ranked Black Bears are the frontrunner for the CAA title and automatic berth in the FCS tournament at 8-1 overall and 5-0 in the league. They have lost only to Northwestern, an FBS team, and play at Albany and then home against Rhode Island before coming to Durham.
Win three straight and, chances are, UNH is playing post-Thanksgiving football once again.
The flipside is, if they don't win at least two, the Wildcats will finish with a record under .500 for the first time since this whole playoff thing began with the 2004 season.
THE men's hockey team lost its second straight overtime game at home on Saturday night when UMass Lowell's Derek Arnold scored with 1:43 left in the extra session to give his team a 3-2 win.
UNH lost by the same score against Michigan on Oct. 19. UNH's other home game was a 1-1 tie with Michigan.
"We're in a hole, but we're playing good hockey," said junior Grayson Downing, who scored with 1:13 left in the third period to get Saturday's game to OT. "We have to take the positives out of it. We're playing well and if we keep doing that, we're going to win games. But it's our second overtime loss and we've got to find ways to get the puck in the net when it counts."
Michigan was ranked No. 5 and UMass-Lowell No. 15 when they played UNH.
The Wildcats are 1-5-1 overall and 0-2-0 in Hockey East.
They won their opener, 4-1 against Clarkson, and have gone winless in the six games since, while averaging two goals a game.
"We've just got to scratch and claw and if we play like that, we'll get out of this hole, said UNH coach Dick Umile, who was happy with how his team competed on Saturday night. "It's a long season."
UNH plays Massachusetts at home on Friday and plays at UMass on Saturday. .