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Kicker back on solid footing

DURHAM - It was an ominous start to the season for Mike MacArthur, especially after the way last season finished for the University of New Hampshire kicker. MacArthur missed an extra point in the final seconds at Montana State in a 26-25 playoff loss that ended UNH's 2011 season. Then he went 2-for-5 on PAT attempts in the first game this year and 7-for-12 in the first three.

''The frustrating thing for me was knowing that we had one tipped at the line in the first game, but other than that ... the holders and the snappers have done a great job, so that blame lies squarely on me,'' said the junior from North Hampton. ''It was a little bit frustrating and definitely something that's good to work through and hopefully leave behind.''

Since those first three games, MacArthur is 21-for-22 on extra points and last week the all-purpose kicker put together his best game of the year. He was 5-for-5 on extra points, including the go-ahead PAT with 2:57 left in UNH's 44-40 win over Richmond; in the middle of the fourth quarter he buried a 51-yard punt at the 1 that pinned the Spiders, swung field position and set up that go-ahead touchdown; and he kicked a 28-yard field goal with 1:08 left that meant Richmond needed a touchdown, not a field goal, in its final comeback bid.

The Spiders' last ditch throw into the end zone failed, No. 12/14 New Hampshire improved to 5-2 and MacArthur was named the Colonial Athletic Association Special Teams Player of the Week.

''It's always nice to get recognition, but it's not something you go out with the mindset to do,'' MacArtur said. ''But also to help the team out in the end in that way, hitting the extra point and the field goal, it makes it a little more special.''

It's not the first time MacArthur has received league recognition. He was the third-team All-CAA kicker as a freshman in 2010 and was named to the second-team last year when he was 15-for-18 in field goal attempts, 40-for-43 on extra points and averaged 38.3 net yards per punt.

Because of that past success, and what he sees every day in practice, Coach Sean McDonnell staunchly defended MacArthur when he struggled earlier this year.

''You asked me questions about it two or three weeks ago and what's going on there, but when you're around a kid every day in practice you see the little thing that he's doing well and what he's got to improve upon,'' said McDonnell, who includes special teams coach among his duties. ''Mike's worked really hard to improve upon a couple of things and I think he's hitting the ball pretty well.''

The right-footed kicker is also still getting back to 100 percent after having surgery on his left hip six months ago.

''To really stomp on that left leg and get into a kick, I'm starting to get that confidence back,'' he said.

MacArthur underwent the same surgery on his right hip after his freshman year. Kicking is obviously tougher with two repaired hips, but at least he's familiar with the recovery process and knows when to ease back in practice as he continues to heal.

''He asks for certain days off. He's been better communicating to me and I've been better seeing when the ball is not jumping off his foot and asking, 'Are you okay?' '' McDonnell said.

MacArthur isn't eager to skip practice, however. Not after missing that all-important extra point to end last season.

''It turns into motivation, too, because it's the worst feeling you could imagine and you just don't want it to happen again so bad,'' MacArthur said. ''Once you get over the bitter taste a little bit, it turned into a big motivator for me in the offseason, a big thing to think about when you're not wanting to go out and do that little bit extra.''

Quarterback reset

No official decision has been made yet, but it seems McDonnell is leaning toward reinstating redshirt freshman Sean Goldrich as the starting quarterback tomorrow when UNH travels to Maine (2-4) for the 100th meeting between the border rivals.

''If we started a game today, Sean Goldrich would probably be the starting quarterback,'' McDonnell said on Wednesday.

Goldrich won the job out of camp, but was knocked from the second game of the season with a shoulder injury and replaced by sophomore Andy Vailas. Vailas has played well (115-for-194 for 1,430 yards, 16 touchdowns and three interceptions; 68 carries for 232 yards and four touchdowns), but he did struggle in the second half last week (4-for-12, 19 yards, interception) and was lifted in favor of Goldrich with 5:58 left in the game. Goldrich then directed the game-winning drive, but Vailas did come in later in the possession to convert a crucial fourth-and-2 from the Richmond 8.

McDonnell said Vailas was ''banged up a little bit Saturday. ... He was limping a little bit out there'' with a variety of injuries, ''hip pointer, bruised ribs, shoulder type of thing.''

''(Vailas) has practiced very limited this week and Sean has been practicing full go,'' the coach said. ''I don't think Sean's arm is still 100 percent, but he's physically better than Andy right now and we're going through the next two practices and next two days and try to figure out where we're at.''

McDonnell said he would make the decision after watching practices Wednesday and yesterday, and then added, ''Good thing I won't be in here Friday to accept any calls.''

The Wildcat coaches and players have stated all season that the team is confident in all of its quarterbacks, Goldrich, Vailas and senior James Brady. Senior captain and right guard Chris Zarkoskie echoed those sentiments on Wednesday.

''I don't think we'll skip a beat whoever is back there because each of these guys is a great leader,'' Zarkoskie said. ''We'd love for Andy to be healthy and throw the ball around. If Goldy needs to play, he needs to play, and that's awesome for us. If Brady needs to play, that's good for us, too. It's such a team atmosphere up here that no one's upset, 'Oh man why isn't he in, why isn't he in?' We all want to win football games, we all want to beat Maine, and we all want to keep the musket.''

The rivalry

That musket is the Brice-Cowell musket, named after former UNH coach William Cowell and former Maine coach Fred Brice, and awarded to the winner in this rivalry game. UNH leads the all-time series, 48-43-8, and has won eight of the last nine meetings, but it's been very close recently. The Wildcats won 28-24 in 2008, 27-24 in '09 and 30-27 last year, and the Black Bears claimed a 16-13 overtime win in 2010.

Maine has lost both of its previous home games this season, falling to Albany (30-20 on Sept. 22) and Villanova (35-14 on Sept. 29). But UNH won't care about records when it kicks off at Alfond Stadium at noon tomorrow.

''It doesn't matter if one team is 0-10 or the other team is 10-0, it's a battle and it can make or break your season,'' Zarkoskie said. ''They're a very hard-nosed football team. That's how Maine is. They're very much like us in that respect and I think that's why we clash so much ... because each team plays so hard. You catch some teams on the schedule, some out of conference teams, that guys aren't playing as hard, but Maine, Maine brings it every time.''

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

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