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UNH gridders face tall task today

UNH Insider

December 08. 2017 7:27PM
UNH's Quinlen Dean practices at Wildcat Stadium on Wednesday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

DURHAM — It’s getting down to the nitty-gritty now.

When the Wildcats of the University of New Hampshire football team walked off “The Stripes” at the University of Central Arkansas last Saturday evening they did so as one of the final eight teams standing in the NCAA Division I FCS tournament.

Sean McDonnell’s team will see what it can do about joining the FCS Final Four on Saturday.

The Wildcats ride a resurgent defense and an opportunistic offense into today’s game at South Dakota State, scheduled for 3 p.m. Eastern time.

They are 9-4 for the season. The Jackrabbits are 10-2 and went 6-2 in the Missouri Valley Conference, which is considered, along with UNH’s Colonial Athletic Association, to be the toughest league in the country.

South Dakota State is on a six-game winning streak that includes victories over powerhouses North Dakota State on Nov. 4 and over Illinois State the next Saturday. The last five wins in the streak have been against teams ranked No. 20 or better in the polls.

The Wildcats defense will be tested once again, this time by a balanced offense that features a quarterback who can run and throw and a pair of All-American pass catchers, backed by an outstanding kicker with a well-known name.

The primary task, as always, is to stop the run game.

“If you can stop the run, contain the quarterback and then find a way to create some turnovers and put pressure on them, you’ve got a shot,” said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. “But you don’t have a shot if you don’t stop the run and you don’t contain the quarterback. Very similar in a lot of ways, the multiplicity in it, to what James Madison has between the run game, the RPOs (run/pass options) and straight drop backs.

This is a really good football team.”

James Madison is the No. 1 seed in the tournament and defending national champion.

The winner of the UNH-South Dakota State game, incidentally, faces the winner of Friday’s Weber State at James Madison game in a semifinal next weekend.

Junior Taryn Christion is the South Dakota State quarterback. He has passed for 31 touchdowns this season and run for another eight.

Senior wide receiver Jake Wienke has 49 catches for 720 yards and 13 touchdowns. Dallas Goedert, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound tight end, is projected to be a high pick in the next NFL draft and has 66 catches for 1,049 yards and six scores.

Sophomore Chase Vinatieri, nephew of Adam, has made his last nine field goal attempts, is 12 for 13 for the year and last week in a 37-22 win over Northern Iowa kicked three, including a 55-yarder.

Yes, the challenge is major.

“Everybody knows that we’ve got to answer the bell and every week we try to hold and give our team a chance to win and every week we keep doing it,” said senior defensive tackle Rick Holt, of Portsmouth. “Maybe some people will start to give us a little respect, but we’ve got to do it again this week.”

Holt led the defense with nine tackles, including 2.5 sacks, in a 21-15 win at Central Arkansas.

Junior starting quarterback Trevor Knight was cleared to play Thursday. He was knocked out of the Central Arkansas game and was in concussion protocol earlier in the week.

Redshirt freshman Christina Lupoli stepped in for Knight in the second period and led the Wildcats to the win and will be ready if called on again.

A football Watch Party is planned for the Whittemore Center this afternoon. Fans with tickets to Saturday night’s Army West Point-UNH men’s hockey game are encouraged to come early and watch the football game on the videoboard in the Whitt. Doors to the Whitt open at 2:30.

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