UNH football loses opener of unusual season

  • University of New Hampshire football coach Sean McDonnell speaks to his team after practice on March 3, 2021, in Durham. UNH opened its spring 2021 season on Friday night with a 24-20 loss to Albany. ALLEN LESSELS / UNH Insider

  • The most odd of football seasons at UNH got off on the wrong foot on Friday night. Rich Beauchesne / fosters.com

  • The University of New Hampshire defense, led by Elijah Lewis (55) and Brian Carter (9), swarm UAlbany running back Karl Mofor during a CAA football game in Durham on March 5, 2021. UAlbany won, 24-20. Jess Speechley / UNH Athletics

UNH Insider
Published: 3/6/2021 3:36:59 PM

DURHAM – This one got away.

Playing under historically unique circumstances in a cold and blustery Wildcat Stadium, the University of New Hampshire football team had a couple of chances late to sneak away with a victory, but the Wildcats couldn’t pull off the comeback and fell to Colonial Athletic Association rival the University at Albany, 24-20, on Friday night.

Never before had the Wildcats played a regular season game in March. They likely haven’t played many – if any – games with temperatures in the mid-20s with a windchill in the single digits.

For the first time in more than 75 years – when World War II caused a three-year suspension of play – the program had gone well over a full year since playing a game.

Plus, head coach Sean McDonnell had been absent from the sidelines for a year longer than his team – since Nov. 17, 2018 – and because of COVID-19 regulations no fans were allowed in the stadium for the first time in … forever?

So yes, Friday night was historic and unique.

But strip all that away and here’s what you have: A game very important to a shortened season, the CAA standings and perhaps a national tournament picture that came down to crunch time. And Albany made the plays when it mattered most.

“It was good to be back out there,” McDonnell said. “But I’m disappointed. I’m really disappointed because as I tell the kids, that’s what defines us, and we were sloppy tonight. We got penalties. We had offsides. All these things start at the top. Obviously, I didn’t communicate well enough how important the little things are to win a football game. We’ll figure that out and get that going.”

McDonnell stressed leading up to the opener that there is little room for error in a season that will include only six games, all of them CAA contests. Now the Wildcats have had a misstep out of the gate.

There were plenty of good signs, to be sure.

The defense, led by a front group of ends Brian Carter and Gunner Gibson and tackles Elijah Lewis and Niko Kvietkus, played well against the run and got pressure on Albany’s talented quarterback, Jeff Undercuffler.

They held the Great Danes to 32 yards rushing, thanks in part to getting four sacks of Undercuffler for 36 lost yards.

The Wildcats recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown – Zedane Williams blocked it, and J.J. Jerome hustled after it and covered the ball in the end zone – for the first time since a Sept. 27, 2014 game against Dartmouth.

Sophomore quarterback Max Brosmer led the Wildcats on a long TD drive to start the season and passed for a pair of touchdowns to junior receiver Sean Coyne.

The Wildcats had their chances to win the game late. Penalties hurt. Missed connections, too.

“That was real encouraging, but we just couldn’t come up with it,” Gibson said.

The Wildcats are off now until they play Delaware at home on March 20 to start a string of five straight Saturday games.

One theory, McDonnell noted, is that it’s better to get right back at it after a tough loss and work at straightening things out.

The coach and quarterback said in their postgame talks that the bye week is coming at a good time.

“I think we need to do a lot of teaching, we’ve got to do a lot of coaching and do a lot of learning in the next week and see what Delaware brings,” McDonnell said.

“I think the bye week is going to help us get all the gears tightened and make sure we’re all on the same page offensively,” Brosmer said. “I think it’s good.”

UNH by the numbers

■Albany had 32 yards rushing on 37 attempts.

■Williams and sophomore defensive back Randall Harris led UNH with nine tackles each.

■Harris had one of the four UNH sacks.

■Gibson had 1.5 sacks.

■Kvietkus had the one sack and Carter had half a sack.

■Great Dane running back Karl Mofor was held to 79 yards on 28 carries, an average of 2.8 yards per attempt.

■Brosmer completed 20 of his 35 passes for 128 yards and two scores.

■Undercuffler was 23-for-36 for 192 yards and three TDs.

■Coyne had five catches for 34 yards.

■Junior Brian Espanet had five for 33 yards.

■Albany had an edge in total offense, 224-186.

■UNH rushed 24 times for 58 yards.

■Sophomore Dylan Laube had four carries for 33 yards.

■The Wildcats got the ball at the Albany 7-yard line with just over a minute to play after the Albany punter fumbled the ball and then received a penalty for kicking it forward.

■A couple of penalties knocked UNH back to the 17-yard line and they were not able to get advance.

■Kvietkus sacked Undercuffler and forced a fumble that linebacker Oleh Manzyk returned 13 yards to start a fourth quarter rally.

■Brosmer hit Coyne for an 18-yard score to pull UNH within 24-20.

■The conversion kick was blocked with 6:48 left in the game, which meant the Wildcats could not tie the contest with a late field goal.

■Albany had seven penalties for 43 yards, UNH 12 for 95.

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