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UNH football loses at Albany, 15-0, to finish the regular season and put playoffs in question



Monitor staff
Sunday, November 19, 2017

A win would have guaranteed a 14th straight trip to the FCS playoffs. But that streak, the best in the nation, is now in jeopardy after No. 16/14 New Hampshire lost at Albany (4-7) on Saturday, 15-0.

The Wildcats finish the regular season 7-4, and every year it’s the four-loss teams that are on the bubble when it comes time to select the 13 at-large bids for the 24-team FCS tournament. UNH has received invitations each of the last two years with 7-4 regular-season records. The ‘Cats will find out if they get a third straight bubble bid when the bracket is revealed at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Not only did the Great Danes shut out New Hampshire, they held the Wildcats to 122 yards of total offense, their lowest output of the season. UNH quarterback Trevor Knight was sacked eight times for a second straight week as the New Hampshire offensive line struggles continued.

Knight finished 18-for-31 for 133 yards, a tough way to end what has been a breakout campaign. The junior from Amherst has already recorded one of the best statistical years in school history as he wrapped up the regular season No. 6 in single-season pass attempts (381), No. 7 in completions (239) and No. 7 in passing yards (2,851).

It was the second shutout of the year against the Wildcats (they lost at James Madison, 21-0, on Oct. 28), something that hasn’t happened to UNH since 1982. Those offensive woes wasted a tremendous effort by the defense and linebackers Quinlen Dean and Jared Kuehl.

Dean finished with a career-high 15 tackles to give him 101 tackles for the season. Kuehl, last week’s CAA Defensive Player of the Week, had 12 tackles (two for a loss), a sack, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. The Wildcats finished with 10 tackles for a loss as a team, including three sacks, and held Albany to 81 rushing yards and 265 yards of total offense.

New Hampshire actually moved the ball in the first quarter, but drives were stalled by a turnover on downs at the Albany 25 and penalties, something that would trouble the ’Cats all game. UNH finished with eight penalties for 75 yards.

The Great Danes opened the scoring with a 27-yard field goal from Ethan Stark to cap a 12-play drive and take a 3-0 lead with 12:52 left in the second quarter. New Hampshire gained just 19 yards in the second quarter, failed to pick up a first down on a fake punt and only avoided a bigger deficit after Isiah Perkins picked off Albany quarterback Will Brunson (14-for-24, 184 yards, touchdown, interception) in the end zone with 20 seconds left in the half.

The UNH offense went backward on its first drive of the second half, and on a fourth-and-23 from the Albany 23, the snap sailed over punter Max Pedinoff’s head and out of the end zone for a safety and a 5-0 Albany lead. The mistakes continued for New Hampshire on the next series as the defense left Austin Ellis all alone and Brunson hit him for a 54-yard touchdown and a 12-0 lead with 8:28 to play in the third.

Albany missed a 38-yard field goal early in the fourth, but the Wildcats’ chance to capitalize on that momentum vanished when Knight was sacked on a fourth-and-4 from the Albany 47. The day’s other unfortunate theme, penalties, reappeared on the next possession as New Hampshire was called for a personal foul on a punt that allowed the Great Danes to extend the drive and eventually their lead, to 15-0 with 6:21 left on the clock after a 38-yard field from Stark.

New Hampshire’s next two possessions ended with, no surprise, a pair of strip sacks from an Albany defense that grew more menacing as the game wore on.

Notes

UNH’s Neil O’Connor finished with team highs in catches (nine) and receiving yards (88). O’Connor now has 87 catches on the year, which ties him for third on the school’s all-time list for receptions in a season. David Ball also had 87 catches in 2005.

The interception from Perkins was his fourth, the most for the Wildcats this season.

New Hampshire’s playoff chances were likely helped by Delaware’s 28-7 loss at Villanova. That leaves the Blue Hens at 7-4 and 5-3 in the CAA, putting them in a tie for fourth in the conference with UNH. The CAA probably deserves four teams in the tournament with James Madison, Stony Brook and Elon as the three locks. It seems like UNH would be favored over Delaware since the Wildcats were ranked in the Top 25 in both the STATS poll (No. 16) and the Coaches poll (No. 14) while the Blue Hens were not in the top 25 of either poll.