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Fast start, tough finish to season for UNH football

  • Dartmouth offensive lineman John Paul Flores blocks New Hampshire defensive end Zach Garron (97) during their game in Durham on Oct. 16. Dartmouth won, 38-21, in their first meeting in five years. The Wildcats lost eight consecutive games to close out the season. Rick Wilson / UNH Athletics

UNH Insider
Published: 11/25/2021 10:25:55 AM

The University of New Hampshire football team owned all the momentum and had Maine backed up a bit early in the second quarter of Saturday’s season finale.

But then sophomore linebacker Oleh Manzyk went down with an injury and was taken from Wildcat Stadium by ambulance (he was treated and later released in the day for an upper body injury from a local hospital) after a long delay.

Maine immediately grabbed control of the momentum and the game and rolled on to a 33-20 win over the Wildcats in this Border Battle rivalry, collecting the Brice-Cowell Musket as its reward.

“We were right there, right there and ‘Boom’ they get a play,” said senior captain and safety Evan Horn.

It was pretty much the story of the season, too.

“We couldn’t wrap it all together this year,” Horn said. “It’s frustrating.”

UNH started the season with consecutive wins over Stony Brook on the road, Towson at home – in Sean McDonnell’s 100th Colonial Athletic Association triumph – and at Lafayette.

The Wildcats, stunningly, did not win another game.

They lost at Pittsburgh, 77-7, in their FBS game against a team that wanted to make a statement after being upset at home the week before.

They played very well, especially on defense, against No. 3 James Madison, but lost 23-21 on Homecoming.

Still, they sat 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the CAA and goals of competing for the CAA title and getting back to the FCS tournament were well within reach.

But then came a 38-21 loss at home to Dartmouth, a 24-10 defeat at Elon and a 35-21 setback at Richmond.

In the end, UNH lost its last eight games and finished 3-8 overall, 2-6 in the CAA.

The next playoff bid will have to wait at least another season.

“Obviously it’s not the season I envisioned for us,” said senior receiver Nick Lorden, another of the team’s captains. “I don’t think it’s the season anybody envisioned for us.”

Certainly not.

The Wildcats know well the history. The 14 consecutive appearances in the FCS playoffs from 2004-2017. The deep runs in that tournament, including making it to the semifinals in 2013 and 2014.

They embrace the expectations, savor the traditions. They desperately wanted to win Saturday and keep the musket in their locker room for another year. Instead, it headed up Interstate 95 and they will need to travel up to Orono next November in a bid to get it back.

“It hurts me knowing I came into the program that had made the playoffs 14 times in a row and we made it my true freshman year, when I didn’t play, and in my redshirt freshman year we made it, but it’s been downhill ever since,” Horn said. “It’s something I wanted to help fix this year but just wasn’t able to do it.”

It was a whole team issue. The Wildcats struggled putting offense, defense and special teams efforts together enough to sustain success.

That sophomore quarterback Max Brosmer, who started the last 10 games in 2019 and the team’s lone game last March, was lost to a knee injury in preseason camp certainly didn’t help.

There’s much work to be done to get back to where things were, coach Sean McDonnell told his team after the game.

There were highlights to the season: The fast start coming off a long, COVID-caused delay, was exciting, and McDonnell’s milestone win were a couple of them.

The beginning of Saturday’s game, with senior Tommy Herion – who was supposed to be a grad assistant coach this year and ended up starting his first career game in the finale – chucking the ball around for touchdown passes to Lorden and Carlos Washington Jr. and Brian Espanet, with the Wildcats jumping all over Maine, brought what-could-have-been thoughts.

But then came the rest of the game.

The emergence of freshman defensive end Josiah Silver as a disruptive force as the season went on was fun to watch. He had a couple more quarterback sacks and a forced fumble against Maine, following up on his four sacks, leading to two fumbles, against Rhode Island the week before.

Silver finished with 12½ sacks, one shy of Bryan McNally’s team record for a season set in 2010. He forced five fumbles in the last three games and six for the season, which was tied for second-best at the FCS level and one short of the country’s best mark.

At 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds out of Hampton, Va., Silver is a prime candidate for various postseason honors, including the Stats Perform Jerry Rice Award, presented to the top freshman in FCS.

“He had a heck of a year and the last two games he has been out of his mind,” Horn said. “He’ll be real good. He’s a great kid and hopefully they can get on the back of him and ride it and see what happens.”

Horn trusts that what happens will turn out to be okay.

“They’ll be all right,” he said. “They’ve just got to put it all together, something we weren’t able to do this year.”

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