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UNH football breezes past Bryant for 45-17 win

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  • Joey Walker / UNH Athletics

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  • University of New Hampshire linebacker Quinlen Dean (54) brings down a Bryant ball carrier during Saturday night’s win. Joey Walker / UNH Athletics

  • University of New Hampshire running back Evan Gray (left) runs downfield alongside receiver Neil O’Connor on Saturday night during the Wildcats’ 45-17 victory over Bryant at Wildcat Stadium. Joey Walker / UNH Athletics

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Monitor staff
Sunday, October 01, 2017

DURHAM – His team had just got shut out in the second half on its way to a 28-point loss, but Bryant Coach James Perry didn’t seem upset.

“It was a great place to play against a terrific football team,” Perry said after his team’s 45-17 loss to New Hampshire on Saturday night in front of 7,951 at Wildcat Stadium. “I thought we played very well at times against what is clearly one of the best teams in all of FCS.”

The second half of their schedule is a killer, but the No. 15/14 Wildcats have put themselves in good position to prove Perry correct and make the FCS playoffs for a 14th straight year now that they’ve started 4-1.

“A 4-1 month of September is a good way to start the season, with a lot of good football to come,” UNH Coach Sean McDonnell said.

New Hampshire quarterback Trevor Knight surpassed the 300-yard mark for the third straight game as he went 17-for-29 for 318 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. And once again his favorite target was Neil O’Connor, who had seven catches for 154 yards and three touchdowns and now has season totals of 40 catches, 638 yards and eight scores.

Perry’s older brother, John, is a UNH alumnus and former UNH coach who is now the wide receivers coach with the Houston Texans. The younger Perry thinks his older brother might want to take a closer look at O’Connor.

“He’s a heck of player,” Perry said of O’Connor. “He’s really a physical guy. You don’t see a lot of guys who can catch and run like that. I know my brother, who is an alum, would probably set his eyes on him a little bit … at the next level, that’s what you’re looking for.”

UNH’s passing game has been on point all season, but the Wildcats have struggled to run the ball … until Saturday night against the Bulldogs (2-3). New Hampshire had 155 rushing yards on 31 carries, and Evan Gray finished with a career-high 98 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 attempts.

“I feel like our coaches did a great job with the play calling,” Gray said. “Not just me, but Donald Goodrich (three carries, 18 yards) and DeUnte Chatman (four carries, 18 yards), we all ran the ball pretty downhill and physical, which led to open passes for (O’Connor) one-on-one. Honestly, we just did a great job offensively.”

The defense wasn’t bad either. Rick Ellison opened the scoring with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the first quarter, and the Wildcats held Bryant well below the 32.3 points per game they were averaging coming into the contest. UNH senior captain and safety D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie finished with a team-high 12 tackles, linebacker Quinlen Dean was everywhere with 11 tackles and Ryan Sosnak, Jae’Wuan Horton and Drummond-Mayrie each finished with a sack.

“The fist half we didn’t play as clean as we could and as we needed to,” Drummond-Mayrie said. “But at halftime we knew had a lot of correctable mistakes so we just got down to it and made some corrections.”

New Hampshire built a 17-0 lead in the first quarter on Ellison’s interception return, a 30-yard field goal from Morgan Ellman and a nasty 31-yard touchdown run from Gray. Bryant answered early in the second quarter with a 33-yard field goal from Gavin Rowley and a 5-yard touchdown run from Tom Kennedy to make it 17-10.

The Wildcats fired back with a 65-yard drive that Gray capped with a 1-yard scoring run and then a 52-yard pass to a wide open O’Connor that made it 31-10 with 5:44 left in the second quarter.

“It was just a great play call,” O’Connor said. “The safety and corner bit down on the bubble screen and I just snuck out open and Trevor hit me right in stride.”

The Wildcats were looking for more points late in the first half, but a pass from Knight was tipped at the line and Bryant’s Zahir Williams came down with the interception at the Bryant 48. Four plays later, Price Wilson (33-for-54, 348 yards, touchdown, two interceptions) threw a 13-yard touchdown to Aaron Ayee and the Bulldogs cut the lead to 31-17 going into halftime.

The shootout quieted down in a surprisingly scoreless third quarter, but UNH rediscovered the end zone early in the fourth when Knight and O’Connor connected for a 19-yard touchdown. On the other side, Bryant pushed into New Hampshire territory on three of its five second-half possessions, but the UNH defense refused to allow any points.

The Wildcats have their bye week coming up, but they won’t be relaxing.

“This week and next week is huge for us,” McDonnell said. “I’m talking from the seniors to the freshmen and how we get better in this program. And not just get healthy, but get better as we’re practicing.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)