UNH is hot, but so is Patriot League king Lafayette entering today's playoff game
DURHAM — The University of New Hampshire plays in the FCS tournament for the 10th straight season starting at noon today against Lafayette College at Cowell Stadium. For the first time since 2005 the Wildcats ride a three-game winning streak into the tournament.
"We do have a lot of confidence," said senior defensive end Cody Muller. "But the playoffs are a whole new season. What we did the past couple of weeks doesn't matter."
UNH had won six straight going into the event in 2005 and won its opener against Colgate, 55-21. Colgate, like Lafayette this year, was the Patriot League champion.
Last year, the Wildcats got smoked in their final regular season game, 64-35, at home against Towson and two weeks later lost their playoff opener at Wofford, 23-7.
The Wildcats were the No. 1 seed in the playoffs in 2005 and played at home again the next week and dropped a heartbreaker to Northern Iowa, 24-21. The loss to Northern Iowa was not only the last time UNH had a home playoff game, but was the last time Sean McDonnell's team has lost a home game to a non-conference opponent.
The Wildcats have won all 11 of the games they have played at Cowell against teams that are not in the Colonial Athletic Association since then.
They've fared well against league teams, too. They were undefeated at 5-0 in home games this year and are 33-4 overall at home since the start of the 2007 season.
"It's huge and it's good to be playing in the cozy confines of Cowell Stadium," McDonnell said. "Our kids take great pride in playing on this field and in this stadium. Our kids are comfortable here. We've played in these surroundings. It doesn't surprise us when the wind comes off the hill there. We see it every day in practice."
Lafayette is on a roll, too, and wasn't bothered by being on the road last week. The Leopards knocked off Lehigh, 50-28, to win the Patriot League title. Lehigh beat UNH, 34-27, earlier in the season.
Lafayette is only 5-6 overall, but won four of its last five games after freshman Drew Reed took over at quarterback.
"He has a very quick release," said UNH defensive coordinator John Lyons. "It's impressive how he's able to throw the ball down the field and put it on the money and he has some receivers who go up and get it. He's done a great job for them."
Reed has completed 112 of his 152 passes (74 percent) for 1,681 yards and 17 touchdowns with only five interceptions.
The Leopards also have a 1,000-yard runner in junior Ross Scheuerman (204 carries, 1,034 yards) and 1,000-yard receiver in senior Mark Ross (68 catches, 1,047).
Sophomore Sean Goldrich will likely start at quarterback for UNH.
Goldrich has started five games and Andy Vailas, a junior out of Bedford and Bishop Guertin of Nashua, has started six.
Both are banged up and they have alternated as the starter each of the last four games with the more healthy guy getting the nod.
Vailas started last week against Maine and was hurt again late in the first half. Goldrich came on and played the rest of the game.
Each of the quarterbacks has passed for nine touchdowns. Goldrich has been intercepted three times and Vailas five.
Senior wide receiver Justin Mello leads the Wildcats with 58 catches for 797 yards and eight touchdowns. Junior R.J. Harris, who has missed three games because of injury, has 46 catches for 603 yards and four touchdowns.
Junior running back Nico Steriti carried 18 times for 139 yards and had a game-sealing 68-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter against Maine. He has 826 yards rushing at 5.4 yards a carry and has seven rushing scores.
Senior running back Chris Setian has four rushing touchdowns and redshirt freshman Dalton Crossan has rushed the ball 21 times and has scored three TDs.
Mike MacArthur, a senior out of North Hampton and Winnacunnet High, has converted 12 of his 15 field goal attempts. MacArthur is UNH's career leader with 48 field goals, which is tied for fifth-best in the CAA.