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Call is made: Goldrich to start at QB

DURHAM - On Wednesday, Sean McDonnell said he would make a decision on a starting quarterback in two days. The New Hampshire coach then added, with a smile, "Good thing I won't be here Friday to accept any calls."

As it turned out, McDonnell didn't need to take (or avoid) any phone calls. UNH sent out a preemptive email stating redshirt freshman Sean Goldrich will start at quarterback today when No. 12/14 UNH (5-2) takes on Maine (2-4) at noon in Orono in the 100th meeting of the two rivals.

It's no real surprise that McDonnell made the announcement; he is generally straight-forward and open with the media concerning player health and depth chart status. And it's no surprise that Goldrich got the nod over sophomore Andy Vailas. McDonnell hinted that would be the case on Wednesday, but the coach wanted to watch the last two practices of the week before making his decision.

Goldrich began the season as the starter and was named the Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Week after accounting for 265 yards of offense and two touchdowns in UNH's season-opening 38-17 win at Holy Cross. But he was knocked out of the next game with a shoulder injury and Vailas took over from there. Last week, however, Vailas struggled in the second half against Richmond and Goldrich came on late in the fourth to direct the game-winning drive. McDonnell also said Vailas was injured in the Richmond game and that his physical condition played a large role in the decision.

Quarterback play, of course, is pivotal for any team, but this year the Wildcats offensive strength lies in a veteran offensive line and a host of playmakers at running back and wide receiver. They all have the attention of Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove.

"They're very skilled at quarterback. They have four guys with over 300 yards (rushing), they rush the football with a variety of styles and with speed and toughness. They get the ball to their playmakers outside, the two wide receivers who I think are two of the premier ones in the league," Cosgrove said, referring to R.J. Harris and Joey Orlando. "They're style of play is hurry up, get on the ball and then play fast, as well, and it gives you a variety of things."

Harris leads the CAA with 665 yards receiving on 46 catches and has seven touchdowns, and Orlando is second on the team with 32 catches for 364 yards and five touchdowns. The UNH ground game tops the CAA at 259.9 yard per game and is led by the three-headed running back beast of Nico Steriti (87 carries, 672 yards, six TDs), Jimmy Owens (47 carries, 349 yards, four TDs) and Chris Setian (51 carries, 320 yards, four TDs). Vailas is the third Wildcat with over 300 yards gained on the ground, although his loss total (which includes sacks) puts him at 232 net yards rushing on 68 carries.

Since the Black Bears are giving up 187.2 rushing ypg (ninth in the CAA), and Goldrich figures to have some rust, expect UNH to lean heavily on those three running backs. And expect Maine senior linebacker Donte Dennis to be a busy man. Dennis is tied for second in the CAA with 9.8 tackles per game and will likely need at least that many stops today.

On the other side of the ball, the Black Bears will try to attack a UNH defense that's allowing 282.9 passing ypg (11th in the CAA) with junior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski (124-for-206, 1,371 yards, seven touchdowns, five interceptions) and a quartet of receivers - Maurice McDonald, Derrick Johnson, Damarr Aultman and Arthur Williams - that McDonnell called "as good as anyone we've seen."

The Black Bears have struggled to execute at critical times, scoring just eight touchdowns in 22 trips to the red zone this year, and that problem was in evidence last week in Maine's 24-19 loss at Towson. The Bears have also stumbled at home, losing both of their games at Alfond Stadium this season.

But there's little doubt they'll be inspired to overcome all obstacles against a UNH team that has won eight of the last nine games in this rivalry.

"Our opponent is the best team in the conference right now, that's my opinion," Cosgrove said. "For us it's a challenge, a huge challenge, and a huge opportunity obviously, and one we're excited about, but we look at them with tremendous respect. They've had the handle in this series and it's been that way, but that's our challenge."

(Tim O'Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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