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A date with destiny for UNH?
DURHAM – Tomorrow is Hump Day.
The University of New Hampshire football team has a 3:30 p.m. date with Colonial Athletic Association rival Villanova in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision tournament.
The Pennsylvania-based Wildcats stand between the Durham-based Wildcats and a first-ever appearance in the FCS semifinals.
There’s room for only one group of Wildcats in college football’s Final Four and Sean McDonnell’s team wants to get past its quarterfinal roadblock and be that team.
They are in the playoffs for a CAA-record sixth straight season, and four times in the past five years they have been eliminated in the quarterfinals. The last three quarterfinal losses have been by two, seven and three points. “The last few years, just a little bit more and we would have been there,” said Lance Mailloux, a junior defensive tackle out of Bedford and Manchester West High School. “I guess it just wasn’t our year. Everybody’s feeling pretty good about this year. Everyone’s excited and flying around at practice. It’s going to be a good weekend, I think.”
The Wildcats hope to have a couple more good weekends, too.
This, to be sure, is a major test.
UNH beat Villanova, 28-24, on Homecoming in Durham on Oct. 10.
That was Villanova’s only loss all season and Andy Talley’s team, talented and tough on both offense and defense, has won each of its six games since.
His Wildcats are the No. 2 seed in the tournament and have beaten two of the other quarterfinalists, defending national champion Richmond, the No. 4 seed, and William & Mary. UNH is 10-2 and lost, 20-17, at William & Mary three weeks ago.
Getting past the quarterfinals is the immediate goal.
“It’s on our minds, but we don’t talk about it too, too much,” said Steve Young, the junior defensive tackle out of Spaulding High in Rochester. “We just know that we’re playing ‘Nova this week. We played them once and they’re probably pretty mad at us because we gave them their only loss.”
In the big scheme of things, various Wildcats noted, tomorrow’s game would be a great one to win, but it is just one more game and one more step toward their long-term goal.
UNH logo Villanova logo
FCS Playoffs: UNH at Villanova
Villanova Stadium, Villanova, Pa.
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
TV: CSNE (Click here to find out what channel CSNE is on your cable system.); ESPN GamePlan, ESPN360.com
Radio: WGIR-AM 610; WGIN-AM 930; WQSO-FM 96.7; WUVR-AM 1490; WNTK-FM 99.7; WCNL-AM 1010; WASR-AM 1420
Free streaming audio will be available for the game. Click here for more information.
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“That’s really not the focus,” said junior quarterback R.J. Toman of getting past the quarterfinals. “The focus is to get to the national championship and to be able to win that trophy. Not just get past this game, but ultimately get our goal we set early on, back in the winter when the snow was falling here. . . . Our goal is to win the national championship.”
Next stop: Villanova, Pa.
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YOUNG BETTER: Young, who hurt his shoulder two weeks ago against Maine, tried to go in last week’s first-round game against McNeese State, but was in for only two plays.
He said his shoulder is feeling much better than it did a week ago and he hopes to play this week.
UNH will have senior defensive tackle Jordan Long, 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, back. Long was suspended for the last five games for breaking unspecified team and school rules.
Head coach Sean McDonnell said Long has been reinstated. He will not start the game, but will play.
“It just helps to have a guy with a lot of experience like that,” Young said. “He’s pretty good at football.”
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DWINDLING RANKS: The good news for the Colonial Athletic Association is that it is the home of half the teams – New Hampshire, Villanova, Richmond and William & Mary – still standing in the FCS quarterfinals.
The rotten news is that the CAA has lost two of its North Division teams since the end of the regular season with the announcement yesterday that Hofstra University is dropping football. Northeastern announced early last week that it was no longer going to sponsor the sport.
That leaves New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island alone in the North Division.
Villanova, Delaware, Towson, Richmond, James Madison and William & Mary are in the South.
Old Dominion is due to join the league in 2011 and Georgia State in 2012.
One possible solution at that point, as mentioned by commissioner Tom Yeager in a teleconference yesterday, would be to move Villanova and Delaware to the North.
Increasing costs of travel, with the league tilted more toward the South, will be just one of the issues faced by the North schools. Another will be whether any other schools – Rhode Island? – is tempted to follow the lead of Northeastern and Hofstra.
In the short term, Yeager and the league will once again be revamping the 2010 schedule.
In the league’s rotating schedule, UNH had been set to play each of the North schools, along with James Madison, Delaware and Richmond next season. Now, the Wildcats will also likely play two of the other three teams from the South for a total of eight league games.
A date with destiny for UNH?
By ALLEN LESSELS, The New Hampshire Union Leader