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December 15. 2013 9:48PM

Big win

Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: Big challenges? Bring ’em on


New Hampshire Wildcats run onto the field in celebration after defeating the Southeastern Louisiana Lions 20-17 at Strawberry Stadium. (Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports)

HAMMOND, La. -- NO HYPING needed for this one. No coach-speak required to boost the profile of an opponent.

The University of New Hampshire football team got back to Durham late on Sunday afternoon — 12 hours later than planned because of the snowstorm — and now will have a quick turnaround to prepare for a Thursday trip west and a huge test on Friday night against North Dakota State University in the FCS semifinals.

The Bison are the class of FCS football and have been for the past few seasons. They won the last two national championships and are two wins away from a three-peat.

The Wildcats aim to muck up those title plans. Coach Sean McDonnell’s team is in the national semifinals for the first time and doesn’t want to stop here.

“We’re in it to win,” said senior safety and captain Manny Asam on Sunday morning before the team left for Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport. “As Coach Mac puts it, ‘We’re not here to tie ballgames. We’re here to win.’ We’re not here for any overtime, we’re here to go all the way and we’re just going to keep taking giant steps forward and try to get to Frisco, Texas.”

The FCS national championship game is Jan. 4 in Frisco.

The Bison know the way to Frisco. Know it well.

“They’re real good,” McDonnell said. “They’re national champions. They’re undefeated. They’re back-to-back. I saw them live two years ago in Frisco and it’s the best FCS team I’ve ever seen. They ran the ball at Sam Houston. I think they’re as good as that now if not better.”

North Dakota State beat Sam Houston State, 17-6, in the game McDonnell saw up close, and beat Sam Houston State, 39-13, again last year in the final.

The Bison are 13-0 and seeded No. 1. They crushed Furman, 38-7, in their first game in this year’s tournament, then Coastal Carolina, 48-14, on Saturday.

Now UNH gets a shot.

And, sure, the Bison are extremely talented and it’s a major challenge.

“Right now, when you think about it, that doesn’t matter,” McDonnell said. “We’ve got an opportunity to play. We’re going to have to really, really prepare. They’re good on both sides of the ball. They’ve got experience. They’ve got great coaching. We’ve got to find a way to win.”

The Bison pack 18,000 or so screaming fans into the Fargodome for home games and are trying to send Craig Bohl — the head coach who built them into a superpower — out on a winning note.

He was named the new coach at Wyoming last week, but is staying with the Bison until this season ends.

The Wildcats hope to help him become a Cowboy in time for Christmas.

UNH wants to keep a good thing going. McDonnell’s team has won six straight games and nine of its last 10 and looks to keep its longest playoff run running.

The Wildcats dug themselves out of the 1-3 hole they were in at the start the season, their head coach can’t stop talking about their resiliency and they have kept right on digging.

“As a senior class we wanted to do something great and we’re in the semifinals now,” said Seamus O’Neill, the left tackle and captain out of Manchester Central. “We got over that quarterfinals hump, I guess it’s a little curse you can call it, and we’re past that now. I’m real proud of the team because of everything we’ve fought through.”

The Wildcats had made it to the quarterfinal round six times in the last nine years and each time had lost, a game short of the semis.

“It’s unbelievable,” said redshirt freshmen defensive back Casey DeAndrade in the middle of an excited group of friends, family and fans outside the UNH locker room late on Saturday night. “I’ve been a part of a lot of sports teams, but nothing like this. To be 1-3 and come all the way here and be one of four teams left is incredible.”

That it is.

alessels@unionleader.com On Twitter: @AllenLessels


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