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Rivalry renewed: UNH football looks to bounce back against Dartmouth

UNH Insider
Published: 10/15/2021 10:28:09 PM

No. 23-ranked New Hampshire and undefeated Dartmouth renew their on-again, off-again football series on Saturday at Wildcat Stadium in Durham at 1 p.m. for UNH’s Family Weekend.

The Wildcats are looking to bounce back after a bye week that followed a pair of losses to a couple of tough opponents, most recently a 23-21 setback against then-No. 3 James Madison on Oct. 2 for Homecoming.

UNH is 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Dartmouth is 4-0 overall, 2-0 in the Ivy League and coming off a 24-17 overtime win against Yale last Saturday.

More than in-state bragging rights are on the line. The Big Green are working on a perfect season and aiming to gain momentum heading into five straight Ivy League contests to close the season.

The Wildcats need to get back on track in their quest for a CAA championship and to earn a spot in the FCS tournament for the first time since 2017.

“If we want to get to where we want to go – and that’s have an opportunity to go to the dance at the end of the year – we’ve got to win these FCS games,” said UNH head coach Sean McDonnell this week. “Beating a team that’s 30-4 (since the start of the 2017 season) and 4-0 right now would put a lot of credibility in what we’re doing.”

The Wildcats qualified for the FCS tournament 14 straight seasons from 2004-2017. The Ivy League does not allow its team to play in the FCS playoffs.

UNH and Dartmouth first met in 1901, and the series was one-sided through the first 70 years. Dartmouth won the opening game, 51-0, and each of the first 16 games through 1972. UNH got its first victory, 10-9, in 1973 and Dartmouth won, 24-13, in 1976.

Starting with a 10-10 tie in 1979, the Wildcats didn’t lose in a run of 20 games – they were 18-0-2 in the span – until Dartmouth took the most recent game, 22-21, in Hanover in 2016.

This year marks the start of a new string of games. The teams are scheduled to play each of the next two seasons and six times through 2028.

The Wildcats are coming off an impressive defensive performance against James Madison. They not only held the Dukes to fewer than half as many points as they had been scoring per game (53.3 at the time), they came up with three turnovers and returned two of them for TDs.

Freshman safety Noah Palm returned a fumbled punt 93 yards for a score, and sophomore defensive back Randall Harris ran an interception back 18 yards for a TD.

The defense this week faces a Dartmouth offense that alternates a pair of quarterbacks who enter the game depending on the situation. Derek Kyler is far more likely to throw the ball, and Nick Howard will generally direct a running game.

“It’s a really unique thing, and I haven’t seen a whole lot of this in my tenure,” McDonnell said. “They do a great job with it. When Nick Howard comes in, it’s a power offense. They’re going to run the football with him, and they’ll do some very good schemes.”

Kyler, at 6 foot and 180 pounds, has completed 71% of his passes (59 of 83), which is fourth-best in all of FCS. He’s passed for seven touchdowns and has not been intercepted.

Howard, 6-foot-2 and 230, has averaged 7.2 yards on his 49 carries and has scored six touchdowns.

Running back Zack Bair averages 6.2 yards on his 54 carries and has two rushing touchdowns. He also has caught a pair of TD passes.

It’s time for the UNH offense to step up, said senior center and captain Matt Mascia. The Wildcats scored one touchdown on offense in each of the last two losses, against James Madison and the week before to Pittsburgh, an FBS team.

“We look back at JMU, and I’ll say it: That game was on us,” Mascia said. “The defense played excellent. They scored 14 points for us. They’re out there holding an excellent JMU offense to (23) points. If you would have written that script for us, I think we would have won that game nine out of 10 times based on saying we have to go out there and score two touchdowns.

“We all have to sit back on that and reflect and be like, ‘We didn’t get our job done.’ That just adds fuel to the fire.”




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