NEWARK, DEL. – The scenarios were similar. The outcomes distinctly different.
Saturday, the University of New Hampshire football team looked to rally and pull out a second consecutive come-from-behind road win late over a nationally ranked Colonial Athletic Association rival.
This time, the Wildcats drove and gave it a big bid in the final minute but came up short on a couple of passes into the end zone – one in particular from one true freshman to another, quarterback Max Brosmer to receiver Griffin Helm, came tantalizingly close to connecting - and despite another stellar performance by the defense, lost to No. 24 Delaware, 16-10, at Delaware Stadium.
“I thought we did a really good job of being resilient and staying positive and finding a way to give ourselves a chance to win late,” said UNH interim head coach Ricky Santos. “That pass was about 18 inches too far. We almost had the game-winner. We’re that close to winning that football game, despite some of the penalties and stuff we overcame offensively. We had a shot here.”
The loss snapped the Wildcats’ four-game win streak and sent them into a bye week with a 4-3 overall record and 3-1 mark in the CAA.
After starting the season with a couple of tough losses on the road, UNH has rebounded nicely.
The Wildcats have put themselves in a position to compete the last month of the season for a spot in the 24-team FCS tournament. Their super streak of 14 straight appearances in the playoffs came to an end last year and one of the goals for this season is to return to postseason play.
It won’t be easy: after their Saturday off next week, the Wildcats face a daunting stretch run of games, starting with a test against No. 7 Villanova on Saturday, Nov. 2 at 1 p.m. for STEM Day at Wildcat Stadium.
After that, UNH goes to No. 2 James Madison on Saturday, Nov. 9, plays at Albany on Saturday, Nov. 16 and closes up with a home game against bitter rival Maine on Saturday, Nov. 23 at 1 p.m.
Individual and group tickets, starting at $9, for all home games are available at www.unhwildcats.com or by calling 603-862-4000. Group ticket options include all-you-can-eat barbecue seating in the Touchdown Tents adjacent to the south end zone in Wildcat Stadium.
The Wildcats trailed 14-10 entering the fourth quarter at No. 22 Stony Brook on Oct. 12 and Brosmer connected with sophomore Brian Espanet on a 20-yard TD pass en route to a 20-14 win.
That victory vaulted UNH into the national rankings at No. 22 for the first time since early last season.
Saturday at Delaware, the Wildcats trailed 13-10 entering the fourth period. They turned the ball over a couple of times in the fourth – once on an interception after a tipped pass from the Delaware 12-yard line. A Jake Roth field goal later made it 16-10 with just 2:46 to play.
Brosmer and the offense took the field.
“The feeling was that we were going to score and win the game,” said sophomore running back Carlos Washington Jr. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in Max and a lot of confidence in our offense.”
Brosmer completed a couple of third down passes to Washington along the way and when he hit a pass to redshirt freshman Dylan Laube on the 10th play of the drive, UNH had a first down at the Delaware 22-yard line and time for three plays.
The pass to Helm in the left corner of the end zone just missed and two more passes were incomplete and that was it.
“You’ve got to take a positive out of every situation,” said Santos, who took over as interim head coach when Sean McDonnell announced before the season began that he was taking a leave of absence to deal with health issues. “I really love the fact that these guys are competing all the way to the end, until the final whistle blows. There’s no quit in this team. That’s something coach Mac has always preached. Ninety-five (players) for 60 (minutes) or whatever it takes. That mentality of playing until the clock hits zero. We’re going to continue to do that and find ways to win.”
Santos and the coaching staff will get a chance to recruit early this week and the team overall will look to reset for the final month.
“This bye week is definitely going to be big for us,” said junior defensive tackle Elijah Lewis, who helped clog up the middle Saturday and had four tackles, one for a loss of yards. “We’ve got to regroup and build each other up and just keep playing hard, both sides of the ball. Villanova, JMU coming up. I can’t wait. Big competition.”
Lewis and the defense came up big throughout the game.
Senior cornerback Prince Smith Jr. intercepted consecutive passes by Delaware quarterback Pat Kehoe midway through the second quarter, setting up UNH’s only two scores of the day, a Jason Hughes 45-yard field goal and Washington’s 4-yard rushing TD.
It was another learning experience, Santos said.
“You look at the first seven games and I think we’ve done a good job with a really young offense, getting some guys acclimated up to game speed and we’ve got a championship level defense,” the coach said. “I feel like we’re going to be a team that’s going to be tough to beat as the season goes along and we’ve just got to learn from this.”
Take the positives and move on.
“I was extremely positive with the guys afterwards,” Santos said. “Can’t hang your head. It’s a good football team, it’s a tough place to win. We’re always going to look at the positives, not the negatives. We’re going to take the things we can do well and try to highlight those and accent those in the bye week and get better.”
Villanova had this weekend off and plays at Stony Brook on Saturday.
Villanova won its first six games before losing at No. 2 James Madison, 38-24, on Oct. 12.
Running back Justin Covington hurt his knee in Villanova’s Oct. 5 game against William & Mary and is out for the season.
He leads the league at 121.2 yards gained per game.
UNH won at Villanova, 34-0, last season.
UNH’s next home game is Saturday, Nov. 2 at 1 p.m. against Villanova for STEM Day.
The Wildcats will celebrate college football’s 150th anniversary with the STEM Day contest.
A pregame science, technology, engineering and math fair will be held for kids.
Winners of the 'Cats Got the Mouse mousetrap car race will be recognized at halftime.
Individual and group tickets, with options including all you-can-eat-barbecue seating in the Touchdown Tents, are available for all home games at www.unhwildcats.com or by calling 603-862-4000.
Group tickets start at $9.
The Wildcats have two home games left in the regular season.
They play Maine for Senior Day in the battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket on Saturday, Nov. 23 at 1 p.m.
The Border Battle of UNH vs. Maine is presented this year by Buffalo Wild Wings.
Buffalo Wild Wings steps up to make sure Wildcat fans have the ultimate place to watch the games, eat wings, and get rewarded at select New Hampshire restaurants when the Wildcats win.
Visit UNHWildcats.com/borderbattle for details and participating locations.
“Ultimately you give credit to Delaware for finding a way to win at the end. I thought our defense played extremely hard. That’s a big, physical imposing offensive line. We tackled well, created some turnovers. Prince was outstanding tonight. They gave us a chance to win. Offensively, we shot ourselves in the foot. Some self-inflicted penalties. Some drops. Turnovers. The quarterback position needs to play much better and I can do a better job leading all those guys. I just think it was a tough, hard-fought CAA contest.”
Interim head coach Ricky Santos
“Delaware definitely came out as we thought they would and tried to run the ball, play action. We took away the play action early and forced them into some situations where they had to throw the ball and I was able to come away with some picks.”
Senior defensive back Prince Smith Jr.
“We have the utmost confidence in Max. He’s done a great job all year. He’s an 18-year-old kid coming into an environment like this. This is as tough a place as you’re going to play in all FCS. We’re going to keep swinging the bat, we’re going to keep fighting. The defense is going to continue to play well and give us a chance to win every week. The bye comes at a good time. We can get healthy, get back to practice and work on some things offensively and find a way to finish strong down the stretch.”
Interim head coach Ricky Santos
UNH BY THE NUMBERS
James Madison leads the CAA with a 4-0 record in league play.
The Wildcats, Villanova and Albany are at 3-1.
Delaware and Richmond are 2-1 in the league.
UNH continues to lead the league in scoring defense at 16.1 points allowed per game.
James Madison is right behind at 16.9.
Smith leads the team with three interceptions this season.
He also tops with 11 career interceptions.
It was his second career game with two picks.
The first was against Stony Brook his true freshman season.
Senior defensive end Josh Kania sacked Kehoe for a loss of eight yards on the play before Smith’s second pick.
Kania had two sacks on the day and has three this season.
Sophomore defensive tackle Niko Kvietkus had the other sack Saturday.
Freshman linebacker Oleh Manzyk leads the team with four this season.
Sophomore safety Pop Bush led the Wildcats with 10 tackles.
Junior safety Evan Horn had nine tackles.
Bush and Horn lead the team with 48 tackles.
Senior linebacker Michael Balsamo and Manzyk each had seven tackles.
The defense allowed 172 yards rushing and 99 yards passing for a total of 271 yards.
UNH is second in the CAA in total defense at 334.4 yards allowed per game.
Washington was the top rusher Saturday with 60 yards on 12 carries.
He also was the leader pass catcher with six for 48 yards.
Gray had 10 carries for 37 yards.
Gray is fourth in the CAA at 71.6 yards per game.
Washington is ninth at 60.7.
Gray is averaging 7.2 yards per carry and Washington is at 4.4.
Hughes matched his career-long with his 45-yarder, his only field goal attempt of the day.
He has made 12 of his 15 field goals this season.
Hughes is tied for the league lead with 1.71 field goals per game.
His 12 field goals are the most for a Wildcat since Mike MacArthur was 15-for-20 in 2013.
UNH’s record for a season is 18 by Tom Manning in 2009.
Brosmer completed 16 of his 33 passes for 160 yards with two interceptions.
Senior punter Drew Sanborn averaged 40 yards on his five punts.
He is sixth in the league at 41.1 yards per punt.