UNH football: Wildcats rank fourth in conference preseason poll

  • Sean McDonnell enters his 19th season as head coach of the University of New Hampshire football team. AP file

Monitor staff
Published: 7/26/2017 12:43:25 AM

The University of New Hampshire football program saw two players selected to the all-conference preseason team and was ranked fourth in the preseason pole unveiled by the Colonial Athletic Association on Tuesday.

Sophomore cornerback Prince Smith Jr. and junior wide receiver Neil O’Connor got the nod by voters for all-conference honors.

James Madison University was ranked as the top team in the CAA after finishing its 2016 campaign at 14-1 and captured the NCAA FCS National Championship. Richmond was ranked second, followed by Villanova third. Delaware slides in behind New Hampshire at No. 5.

The Wildcats open the season Aug. 31, a Thursday night, against border rival Maine in Durham. It is the first time UNH will open the season with the Brice-Cowell Musket on the line, awarded to the winner of the annual UNH-Maine game. The game is typically played at the end of the regular season.

“First game of the season, anything can happen,” senior safety D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie said Tuesday at the CAA’s annual media day in Baltimore. “I am really excited to open it up on a Thursday night, the whole campus is going to be there to see us play against our biggest rival.”

The Black Bears will ride into Durham with revenge on their mind. The Wildcats beat Maine last November in Orono, securing the Musket for another year in Durham.

The Wildcats snuck by in that game with a 24-21 win.

“We have so much respect for that program and what (UNH) Coach (Sean) McDonnell has done,” Maine Coach Joe Harasymiak said. “We’re excited at the chance to get them back right away. ... To kick off the year with them, I know our kids are very excited about it.”

Perhaps no one is as familiar with the rivalry than McDonnell, who enters his 19th season at the helm of his alma mater. The game has been dubbed the Thursday Night Throwdown, but McDonnell isn’t getting caught up in the theatrics.

“To us, it’s Maine and New Hampshire,” McDonnell said Tuesday in Baltimore. “We could play at a rest area on I-95 and it would be a hell of a game, it would be a competitive game and it would be a battle. That’s what it’s going to be that night.”

The win over Maine helped the Wildcats squeeze into the FCS playoffs for a 13th straight season, the longest active streak in the nation. UNH dominated Lehigh in the opening round with a 64-21 win in Durham, but the Wildcats ran into a brick wall with a 55-22 loss to James Madison in the second round.

UNH finished 8-5, 6-2 in the CAA, for third in the conference.

Drummond-Mayrie, who joined the team as a true freshman in 2014, said the pressure was there to get in the playoffs and preserve the Wildcats’ winning legacy. The streak is a direct connection to an earlier era in McDonnell’s head coaching career, one that featured the dynamic tandem of quarterback Ricky Santos receiver David Ball in 2004.

Still, the players and coach try to keep each game – and season – isolated.

“Of course you have that stress that you don’t want to be that first team in 13 years not to make it,” Drummond-Mayrie said. “Coach Mac always does a great job of stressing one game at a time. ... We always look at that next game and take it one game at a time and you gotta win each one to make it there, so we try not to think about it too much.”

After beating Maine, the Wildcats still relied on the play of others to determine whether their season would continue into the playoffs.

“Beating Maine was huge because of the way they played all year, and fortunately we got the opportunity to go to the playoffs one more year,” McDonnell said.

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3339, nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)




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