College Football: Wildcats need a win to stay in hunt
DURHAM — The University of New Hampshire offense — and the passing game in particular — responded in a big way against a tough defense in last Saturday's 33-17 win over James Madison.
The offense and the Wildcats will attempt to keep it going this afternoon at 3:30 at Bob Ford Field at the University at Albany.
UNH needs to win today and at home next week against Maine to stay in the hunt for an FCS playoff berth.
"We know how many games are left and how many there could be left," said senior wide receiver Justin Mello. "If we take advantage of this week and come out with a win, it's one more step to having more games to play down the road."
The Wildcats are ranked No. 23 in the country at 5-4 overall and are 4-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association. They must get to 7-4 to even have a shot at grabbing a playoff berth.
Albany is 1-9 and 0-6 in its first year in the CAA and hopes to get Bob Ford, who is retiring when the season ends after 41 years as head coach, his first CAA win and one win at the school's new field. It is Albany's last home game of the season.
"We've won one game on the road this year," said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. "We've got to find way to win on the road again."
UNH is 1-4 on the road and 4-0 at home.
In their last road game, the Wildcats were shut out at William & Mary, 17-0, two weeks ago. It was the first time UNH had been blanked in 18 years.
Andy Vailas, a junior quarterback from Bedford, completed 28 of his 49 passes for 397 yards and three touchdowns against JMU.
Junior running back Nico Steriti connected with junior wide receiver R.J. Harris on a 52-yard option pass for UNH's second score.
The 449 yards as a team were the most since Ricky Santos led the Wildcats to a 598-yard passing game in a 51-40 win at Villanova on Oct. 2, 2004, his rookie season. Santos passed for 538 of those yards.
Vailas, who has been dealing with a knee injury that limits his running, found out shortly before the JMU game that he was going to start. UNH coaches deemed him the better option over sophomore Sean Goldrich, who has a rib problem.
The choice of a quarterback for today could come down to game time as well.
Either QB should have some options on the receiving end. Harris had 10 catches for 183 yards and a career-high three scores, and Mello 10 for 123 yards last week. Harris was in his first game back after missing three-plus games with concussion symptoms. He received the New England Gold Helmet Award for his efforts.
The Wildcats are averaging 255.3 yards passing and 182.1 rushing a game. The Great Danes allow 257.5 passing yards a game, which is last in the CAA.
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Dartmouth, 4-4 overall and 3-2 in the Ivy League, is at Brown, 5-3 and 2-3, today at 12:30 trying to keep its Ivy League title hopes alive. The Big Green must win out, today and at home against Princeton next week, and get some help from others, too. Princeton is undefeated at 5-0 in the league, Harvard is 4-1 and Yale and Penn join Dartmouth at 3-2. . . . No. 9 seed St. Anselm, 1-9 overall and 1-8 in the Northeast-10, is at No. 6 Bentley, 5-5 and 4-5, today at noon in a Northeast-10 "championship" matchup. Bentley scored with less than three minutes to play to knock off the Hawks, 32-27, in Waltham on Oct. 5 ... Plymouth State, 2-7 overall and 1-6 in the MASCAC, is at Fitchburg State, 5-4 and 4-3, today at 1 p.m.