UNH quarterback Knight questionable for Saturday’s playoff game in South Dakota

  • UNH quarterback Trevor Knight (18) hands off to Evan Gray (22) during the Blue-White Spring Game at the University of New Hampshire in Durham on Saturday, April 29, 2017. White defeated Blue, 23-3. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Trevor Knight (18) throws a pass during the UNH Blue-White scrimmage in August. The quarterback is questionable to play in the Wildcats’ FCS quarterfinal game Saturday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Thursday, December 07, 2017

DURHAM – Trevor Knight does not have a green light to play on Saturday when the University of New Hampshire football team travels to South Dakota State University for the FCS quarterfinals. But Knight doesn’t have a red light, either.

The junior quarterback is in concussion protocol after getting knocked out of UNH’s 21-15 win last weekend against fourth-seeded Central Arkansas. Knight practiced on Tuesday without contact and, as of Wednesday, had been free of concussion symptoms for 48 hours, “which is a good thing,” UNH coach Sean McDonnell said.

“But he still he has to pass that concussion protocol test to play on Saturday, so we’ll know more about it (Wednesday) after practice and getting into it (Thursday),” McDonnell said.

If Knight can’t play, the Wildcats (9-4) will start redshirt freshmen Christian Lupoli against fifth-seeded SDSU (10-2). Lupoli took over for Knight against Central Arkansas and went 8-for-10 for 63 yards and a touchdown. It was an impressive effort considering that prior to the game in Arkansas, Lupoli was just 3-for-14 for 16 yards and an interception in six appearances.

“Poise, composure,” McDonnell said when asked about what impressed him about Lupoli on Saturday. “I know he has talent. I know he can run. I know he can throw. Understood where we were going with the ball and what we were doing with it. Put balls on people and didn’t get flustered in there. Got hit a couple times, got back up. Knew what went wrong. Didn’t look around like a deer in the headlights and the touchdown pass he threw in the corner to Malik (Love) was a hell of a rope.”

McDonnell wasn’t surprised by Lupoli’s performance. The coach said he looked, “really, really good” at the end of spring camp before taking a step back in the summer when he missed the first 10 practices with a shoulder injury. Lupoli looked like a freshman when he came in for a banged up Knight in UNH’s 21-0 loss at James Madison on Oct. 28. He went just 1-for-6 for 4 yards and an interception and, “was a little antsy on his feet in a tough situation,” McDonnell said.

But Lupoli handled the pressure in Arkansas and, “he didn’t disappoint, to be honest with you, didn’t disappoint,” McDonnell said.

“I was extremely confident in (Lupoli),” Love said. “Every day in practice he works hard. He wants to get better each and every day ... it’s a big confidence booster for us as a whole unit for him to be able to come in, in that critical of a game, in a do-or-die situation, and execute the way he did. ... He’s a tremendous leader. When he came in he was talking to the linemen, pumping them up, coming up to the receivers pumping us up, and basically telling us we were going to win that game, so it was huge.”

Not only do the UNH coaches have to get Lupoli ready in case Knight can’t go, they also have to prepare redshirt freshman and Kennett High product Will Pollard to be Lupoli’s backup. Merrimack Valley grad Ivan Niyomugabo might have been in the shoes of Lupoli or Pollard, but Niyomugabo suffered a high ankle sprain during a practice in the middle of the season and has not fully recovered.

“We were hoping to get more out of Ivan yesterday at practice and his foot did not respond to it, and it hasn’t responded from the high ankle sprain,” McDonnell said. “It’s been a long process, a tough, tough ankle sprain and he won’t be ready to go. So if we had to have a third or fourth (quarterback), it would be Steven Hedberg (a true freshman from St. Thomas High in Dover).”

Lupoli wasn’t the only young ’Cat called on to step up in Arkansas. Sophomore Noah Robison, a Pinkerton High grad, had to fill in at tackle when Dane Herron went down.

“Noah did a nice job,” McDonnell said. “Got to remember it was his first time starting a college football game and playing a tremendous amount of snaps ... couldn’t be happier for the kid, couldn’t be prouder of the kid for sticking with it and working at it.”

Herron should be available to play against the Jackrabbits on Saturday, but chances are good UNH will still need Robison. Guard Matt Mascia has been diagnosed with mononucleosis and will likely miss the trip to South Dakota.

“We’re going to have to move the guys around a little bit and figure out what the best five is,” McDonnell said. “(Robison) will probably be in that best five one way or the other.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)