Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: Early wakeup call spurred gridders
DURHAM -- The University of New Hampshire football team went to Towson in Week Four for a major test in its first Colonial Athletic Association game against the No. 2-ranked team in the country.
The Wildcats got pounded.
Towson scored 24 unanswered points in the second quarter and rolled up a whopping 731 yards of total offense en route to a 44-28 win.
UNH dropped to 1-3 for the season and its hopes for another successful season and 10th straight trip to the playoffs suddenly looked quite bleak.
Something had to change. Quickly.
The Wildcats met as a team, players only, and discussed their fate and recommitted to their focus, to their effort in preparing for games and to performing in practice and games.
They ran off three straight wins, lost 17-0 at William & Mary, and then won three more, culminating with a decisive 24-3 win over Maine at Cowell Stadium on Saturday in a game in which their defense was dominant.
A selection committee deemed the surging Wildcats at 7-4 worthy of an at-large pick at to the FCS tournament and they open that 10th consecutive appearance in the playoffs with a rare home game against Patriot League champion Lafayette on Saturday at noon.
The aftermath of Towson started the turnaround.
“I think it was kind of a wakeup call,” said redshirt freshman defensive back Casey DeAndrade, who had an interception against Maine.
“It wasn’t embarrassing, but it was like, ‘Wow.’ We need to do something. We started practicing better and better and doing more about focusing on the little things.”
Others disagreed with part of DeAndrade’s assessment: They felt the team was embarrassed by the Towson effort.
“You’ve got to be a man,” said senior safety and captain Manny Asam.
“You can’t let another team come in and run all over you. You’ve got to put your foot down. You’ve got to protect your turf and that’s what we started doing. People started flying around. People started putting more effort into watching film.”
“There was a difference in approach as far as paying attention in practice and meetings and things like that,” said defensive coordinator John Lyons. “It was staying on top of things and every snap doing what they were supposed to be doing and calling one another out about it, which is good.”
The week after Towson, UNH beat Rhode Island, 59-19, and then took on No. 12 Villanova.
Head coach Sean McDonnell points to that game as a turning point for the defense, too.
Villanova’s outstanding quarterback, John Robertson, had a huge day, but the defense tackled better and did enough to keep UNH in the game and the offense pulled it out with a clutch last-minutes drive, 29-28.
Through their first four games this season, the Wildcats allowed 30 points per game and through six the number was 28. In their last five games, they have chopped the number in half and allowed 14 a game.
Now, heading into the playoffs, their average points-allowed-per-game is 22, which is tied for 24th best in the FCS. Last year, UNH allowed 30 points a game.
“Going back to 2010 with guys like (Hugo) Souza, (Brian) McNally and (Matt) Evans was about the best defense we had,” McDonnell said. “They were a more physically dominating defense. But this team is playing up to their standards in getting turnovers and getting off the field ...
“But it doesn’t mean anything.” said McDonnellm, “unless we continue to play that way come Saturday.”
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LAFAYETTE is 5-6 and has won four of its last five games.
The Leopards took off after inserting freshman Drew Reed at quarterback. In his five and a half games, Reed has completed 112 of his 152 passes (74 percent) for 1,681 yards and 17 touchdowns, with five interceptions.
Reed completed 20 his 27 passes for 378 yards and three touchdowns and did not have an interception in Lafayette’s 50-28 win at Lehigh on Saturday. Lafayette won the league championship and automatic spot in the FCS tournament with the win. UNH lost to Lehigh, 34-27, on Sept. 28.
The winner of Saturday’s game plays at No. 5 seed Maine next Saturday.
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THE UNH men’s hockey team will try to get back on track with a pair of games at Colorado College tonight and Saturday night.
The Wildcats had their six-game winning streak snapped with a 4-2 loss at Providence on Saturday and lost at home to Harvard, 6-3, on Tuesday night.
“Last night was definitely a disappointment for us,” said senior defenseman and captain Eric Knodel on Wednesday. “We didn’t play the way we wanted to at all.”
UNH is 7-7-1 overall and has four games left before it breaks for the holiday. After this weekend’s game at CC, the Wildcats play at Boston College on Friday and then home against BC on Saturday.
“You always want to go into break on a high note,” Knodel said. “This gives us four games to build on and go into break with a good feeling about our team.”
Colorado College has had a rough start to the season.
The Tigers are 1-8-2 and have scored only 15 goals in their first 11 games.
UNH’s first line of junior Grayson Downing centering for senior Dalton Speelman and sophomore Dan Correale was a bright spot against Harvard.
Each of the three had a goal and Correale’s stood out in particular.
“That was a fabulous goal,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “He’s as quick as anyone and he’s getting confident with the puck.”
On Twitter: @AlllenLessels