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After quick start, UNH can’t keep pace with Toledo, loses 54-20

  • August 30, 2014:  Game action between the Toledo Rockets, of the Mid-American Conference, and the New Hampshire Wildcats, of the Colonial Athletic Association, in a non-conference regular season game played at Glass Bowl Stadium in Toledo, Ohio.

    August 30, 2014: Game action between the Toledo Rockets, of the Mid-American Conference, and the New Hampshire Wildcats, of the Colonial Athletic Association, in a non-conference regular season game played at Glass Bowl Stadium in Toledo, Ohio.

  • August 30, 2014:  Game action between the Toledo Rockets, of the Mid-American Conference, and the New Hampshire Wildcats, of the Colonial Athletic Association, in a non-conference regular season game played at Glass Bowl Stadium in Toledo, Ohio.

    August 30, 2014: Game action between the Toledo Rockets, of the Mid-American Conference, and the New Hampshire Wildcats, of the Colonial Athletic Association, in a non-conference regular season game played at Glass Bowl Stadium in Toledo, Ohio.

  • August 30, 2014:  Game action between the Toledo Rockets, of the Mid-American Conference, and the New Hampshire Wildcats, of the Colonial Athletic Association, in a non-conference regular season game played at Glass Bowl Stadium in Toledo, Ohio.
  • August 30, 2014:  Game action between the Toledo Rockets, of the Mid-American Conference, and the New Hampshire Wildcats, of the Colonial Athletic Association, in a non-conference regular season game played at Glass Bowl Stadium in Toledo, Ohio.

TOLEDO, Ohio – The last time the University of New Hampshire traveled to Toledo for a football game, it was practically over before it even started. The Wildcats had a better start last night, but the end was almost the same.

After taking an 11-point lead early in the second quarter, UNH gave up 27 unanswered points and Toledo scored on eight straight possessions to run away with a 54-20 victory at The Glass Bowl in the season opener for both teams.

“Very disappointed that we didn’t do the things that I thought we’re capable of dong defensively in the second half and even at the end of the first half,” UNH Coach Sean McDonnell said.

“We couldn’t tackle in open spaces, couldn’t fill gaps, we gave away blitzes. It was just like reading a book for them. They were one step ahead the whole time.”

When the Wildcats opened the 2011 season in Toledo, the Rockets led 17-0 after the first quarter and 27-0 late in the second on their way to a 58-22 victory. New Hampshire avoided that kind of start this time, holding Toledo to just three points in the opening frame, but Toledo still wound up with 674 yards of total offense.

“I was very impressed with them. Their scheme was tremendous,” McDonnell said. “It was the same thing I saw here in (2011). They do it and they do it well.”

The Wildcats have now lost five straight games against FBS opponents. That matches their streak of wins against FBS teams from 2004-09, when they beat Rutgers, Northwestern, Marshall, Army and Ball State. The FBS losses have come against Pittsburgh, Toledo, Minnesota, Central Michigan and Toledo a second time.

“When we get back to playing our guys on our level, we’ll be fine,” McDonnell said. “I think.”

New Hampshire opened the scoring on its first possession last night, marching 71 yards in 10 plays. The Wildcats went 3-for-3 on third down on the drive with passes from Sean Goldrich to R.J. Harris converting a third-and-9, a third-and-5 and a third-and-11.

That final third-down conversion ended up in a 35-yard touchdown. It was just a short pass to Harris in the right flat, but the Toledo defense was reacting to action on the left side of the field, and New Hampshire tackle Austin Heter delivered a block that sprung Harris for the score.

The Rockets answered with a pounding ground game on the next drive (they finished with 314 rushing yards). They pushed down the field with relative ease, but once they got inside the UNH 10 the Wildcat defense adjusted and a pair of big tackles from linebackers Akil Anderson and Shane McNeely forced Toledo to settle for a 22-yard field goal from Jeremiah Detmer to make it 7-3 with 9:04 left in the first.

It stayed that way until midway through the second when Goldrich (27-for-39 for 291 yards and two touchdowns) and the UNH offense constructed a 13-play, 87-yard drive that chewed up 6:07 and gave the ’Cats a 14-3 lead.

That drive included yet another third-down conversion pass from Goldrich to Harris and then a 9-yard run from Goldrich on a third-and-6 that not only resulted in a first down, but also an ejection for Toledo safety Chaz Whittaker when he targeted Goldrich with his helmet at the end of the play. That penalty put the ball on the Toledo 12 and three plays later Goldrich converted yet another third down, this time running in from four yards out for that 14-3 lead with 7:43 left in the second.

The combination of Whittaker’s ejection and UNH’s efficiency seemed to send shock waves through the Glass Bowl crowd and along the Toledo sidelines. The Rockets needed a jolt, and Phillip Ely, the junior transfer from Alabama, delivered just that on the next possession when he found Corey Jones for a 64-yard touchdown.

That touchdown started that string of eight straight scoring possessions for the Rockets and infused Ely (24-for-34 for 337 yards and four touchdowns) with palpable confidence. Once Toldeo got rolling, the ’Cats just couldn’t stop it.

Kareem Hunt (20 carries, 137 yards) scored from 2 yards out to cap a 96-yard drive just before the first half ended to give the Rockets a 16-14 lead going into the locker room. Harris said the Wildcats were upbeat during halftime, but the offense sputtered on two straight possessions to start the second half.

“We kind of slowed down in the second half, we couldn’t put things together, we couldn’t sustain drives,” said Harris, who finished with nine catches for 149 yards.

UNH had trouble finding consistency in part because it couldn’t run the ball (37 yards on 31 carries). Toledo, however, had no such problems.

The Rockets leaned on their ground game in the second half and moved the ball at will against the Wildcats, taking a 37-20 lead after three and upping it to 44-20 early in the fourth. The ’Cats had signs of life – like a 74-yard drive that ended with an 8-yard touchdown catch from Nico Steriti – but they also made mistakes, like a dropped pass from Harris that would have been a sure touchdown and could have cut the lead to 37-27 late in the third.

“That was just my fault,” Harris said. “It was a perfect ball.”

The Rockets kept running, and running up the score, as the fourth quarter dragged on. But the Wildcats will try to forget those last minutes and focus on what’s ahead of them.

“We have to move on to the next one,” Harris said, “and leave this one behind us.”

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

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UNH VS. FBS TEAMS The Wildcats are 5-5 in their last 10 games against FBS teams, now losing five in a row after last night’s loss at Toledo. 2004 UNH 35, Rutgers 24 2006 UNH 34, Northwestern 17 2007 UNH 48, Marshall 35 2008 UNH 28, Army 10 2009 UNH 23, Ball State 16 2010 Pittsburgh 38, UNH 16 2011 …

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