UNH hopes for another successful ‘do-over’ vs. JMU

DURHAM – The upperclassmen and coaches with the University of New Hampshire football team had a message – a stern reminder, really – for the rest of the group.

Remember last year. Remember it well, they stressed over and over as soon as it was announced that the Wildcats were to play Lehigh University in the first round of the NCAA Division I FCS tournament.

Nice listening.

A year ago, UNH got caught looking ahead a bit and lost its first-round game in the tournament to Colgate, abruptly ending its season.

They had to wait a full year to get a chance to do it, but on Saturday the Wildcats bounced back from that misfortune and took out their revenge, 64-21, on Lehigh – like Colgate, the Patriot League champion.

The emphatic triumph vaulted the Wildcats into the second round of the tournament and a rematch with Colonial Athletic Association rival James Madison University on the road in Harrisonburg, Va., on Saturday at 2 p.m.

"Now we’ve got another chance, another do-over coming up," said UNH coach Sean McDonnell after Saturday’s win. "That’s the great thing about this (the FCS tournament). You can win it on the field or lose it on the field."

Saturday’s win was impressive on both sides of the ball.

"They just beat us up up front, they really did," said Lehigh coach Andy Coen. "They are the standard for most of us, the team to chase as far as getting to the playoffs every year."

The Wildcats are in the tournament for the 13th straight season. The mark is the longest in the country and inching closer to Montana’s record of 17 straight playoff appearances.

The UNH defense came up with four turnovers with three interceptions and a fumble recovery.

Lehigh had won nine straight games and had turned the ball over just eight times all season, the lowest total in all of FCS.

The offensive line pounded away at the Mountain Hawks and UNH put up more points than it had in a game since a 70-20 win over Central Connecticut State in 2003.

Senior quarterback Adam Riese started for the first time this season in the place of sophomore Trevor Knight – the Nashua South graduate and Amherst native was on the sidelines in a backup role after hurting his foot last week against Maine – and consistently drove the offense down the field.

The team’s 364 yards rushing (of 637 total) were 2 more than the Wildcats collected against Holy Cross earlier this year and the best since 389 in a 64-61 shootout loss to Old Dominion in 2012.

Senior Dalton Crossan carried 24 times for 184 yards and junior Trevon Bryant 11 for 113, giving the Wildcats two 100-yard rushers in a game for the first time since another 2012 game.

"The offensive line, again, played unbelievably," Crossan said. "Once we got rolling we didn’t stop."

Said McDonnell: "I thought we fired on a lot of cylinders today."

Crossan started the day 100 yards out of the top 10 in UNH history for single-season rushing yards and ended it at No. 6 with 1,189 yards.

The James Madison matchup is intriguing and neither team should have a problem with focus.

Last year, the Dukes got sidetracked by Colgate, too. After beating UNH, Colgate went to Virginia and beat James Madison as well.

JMU and New Hampshire played on Oct. 15 in Durham. The Dukes were rolling and led 42-12 five minutes into the fourth quarter. UNH rallied fiercely from there and scored 27 straight points and came up just short of a comeback and fell 42-39.

Welcome to the do-over.