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New Hampshire rolls past Lafayette
It took New Hampshire 21/2 minutes to score its first touchdown Saturday afternoon. But the statements the Wildcats made in doing that were far more significant than the seven points that went on the board.
Bigger. Faster. Stronger. It was as simple as that.
A sack on Lafayette’s first offensive play sent a message to freshman quarterback Drew Reed that he was playing on a different stage, and UNH needed only four plays to set a similar tone against a Lafayette defense that for the last month had played its best football of the season.
The Colonial Athletic Association’s third best team in the NCAA FCS playoffs — at least according to the seedings — suffocated, stormed and stomped on the Patriot League champion at every turn en route to a 45-7 victory that brought an abrupt end to the Leopards’ dreams.
And yet, after taking the most lopsided beating of his career as Lafayette head coach, Frank Tavani, admitting “we imploded on offense, defense and special teams,” could still point to what the 2013 Leopards had accomplished leading up to this point.
“We’re proud that our seniors restored order and a championship to our program and set an example for our younger players as to what is to be expected in the future,” a drained and disappointed Tavani said.
Certainly the Leopards will have time to reflect on some of the positives that came out of this 5-7 season, but on Saturday it was impossible to deny that, no matter how well prepared they might have been, they could not match New Hampshire’s determination, emotion or physicality.
It’s almost impossible to know where to start, but UNH coach Sean McDonnell did it. Despite the fact that his offense put up 551 yards and handed the Leopards their worst loss since Colgate won 56-14 in 1999, McDonnell heaped the praise on the defense.
And why not?
The Wildcats, who had 30 sacks during their 11 regular-season games, smothered Reed 10 times as he tried to pass and several more times on quarterback runs, so, while he rushed for 21 positive yards he, lost 81 for a net of minus-60.
Shane McNeely, the Allentown Central Catholic grad who is the leading tackler, said he didn’t think the blitz was a bigger part of the defensive scheme against Lafayette, “but when we did blitz our hair was on fire.”
The report on the Wildcats was that most of their blitzing would come on what might be considered definite passing downs, and Lafayette had way too many of those on Saturday. Reed went down on third-and-20, third-and-12, third-and-14 and fourth-and-11.
But if one hurt more than others, it may have been in the first quarter while the Leopards still trailed by only two touchdowns. Faced with a manageable fourth-and-four at the New Hampshire 35, Reed was buried by Matt Kaplan and Hayden Knudson for a 13-yard loss.
Six plays later, UNH had another touchdown on a Sean Goldrich pass to Dalton Crossan.
That’s the kind of day it was for Lafayette, which was 3-for-18 for the game on third- and fourth-down conversion attempts — and two of the successful plays came in a fourth-quarter drive after Blake Searfoss took over for his fellow freshman QB and engineered an eight-play, 58-yard drive that enabled the Leopards to avert being shut out. He passed to Mike Duncan for a 6-yard score.
Shane McNeely had seven tackles, including 1.5 sacks in the game, and one of those sacks was big because he managed to strip the ball from Reed. It was recovered by UNH teammate Sean McCann at the Lafayette 22.
On the next play, Goldrich hit wide receiver R.J. Harris on a short pass but, when Lafayette failed to make a play on the ball, Harris took it in for a touchdown.
“We were certainly outmanned at spots and that was clear from the very first series,” Tavani said. “That doesn’t have anything to do with schemes. That’s just getting run over by individuals. It was a complete breakdown in all three phases, and when that happens, you get beat, you get handled and you get your butt kicked and there isn’t much you can say.”
New Hampshire, which, like Lafayette, started slowly this season, won for the seventh time in its last eight games, and next it will have to defeat arch rival Maine for the second time in three weeks if it is to advance in the playoffs.
The Wildcats are playing in the postseason for the 10th straight year, and that experience certainly played into their dominant performance on Saturday.
Lafayette’s young players can only hope the rude lessons learned on Nov. 30, 2013 will translate to more positive things in the years ahead.