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Penalties plague Wildcats in 24-20 loss on opening night


DURHAM, N.H. – It felt more like November than September when the Wildcats (0-1) kicked off their season this time around. As snow lined Wildcat Stadium redshirt sophomore quarterback Jeff Undercuffler torched the Wildcat defense in the third quarter to build a 10-point UAlbany (1-0) lead. UNH beat themselves as penalties stacked up and they squandered a chance to steal a win in the final moments. Despite shining at points, the Wildcats fell by a final of 24-20 in their first of six games this spring. 

The Wildcats got action started with a methodical 14-play drive eating up nearly seven minutes of the opening quarter of 2021. Sophomore quarterback Max Brosmer completed 6-of-8 passes good for 45 yards to get his side on the board first. Brosmer completed a 4-yard pass to junior wideout Sean Coyne in the back right corner of the end zone with 7:59 to go in the first quarter. 

On their way to the red zone head coach Sean McDonnell (Coach Mac) pulled out some tricks in his first game back since 2018. The UNH offense lined up eight players along the numbers on the left side of the field. Brosmer remained under center between the hash marks with sophomore running back Dylan Laube in the backfield. The unconventional set led to a first down picked up by Laube. 

UAlbany answered right back with a near identical drive of their own. Undercuffler led a 14-play, 75-yard drive for the Danes. UNH nearly got off the field without any damage but an unsportsmanlike conduct by redshirt first-year linebacker Zedane Williams gave UAlbany a fresh set of downs. The penalty allowed the offense that Coach Mac raved all about in his mid-week press conference to stay on the field – Undercuffler made the Wildcats pay. 

Undercuffler went on to pass for 43 yards following the penalty. The quarterback capped off the drive with a 23-yard touchdown pass along the right sideline completed to redshirt first-year receiver Mike Gray. This ball tied the game at seven points apiece. 

Brosmer continued to look sharp in the opening drive of the second quarter. The Georgia native went a perfect 7-for-7 on yet another 14-play drive. He drove the Wildcats to the Great Dane 20-yard line when UNH called for a rush on fourth-and-2. Junior running back Carlos Washington Jr. was only able to pick up one yard, squandering the eight-minute drive.  

UNH was nearly hurt once more by defensive penalties on the ensuing UAlbany possession. They were able to finally get the Danes off the field thanks to an errant snap on third down. The Wildcats’ offense stalled following the punt, however.  

When Undercuffler and the Danes took the field with just over two minutes to go in the half, the UNH defense made sure their voices were heard before halftime. The Wildcat front imposed their will upon the Great Dane offensive line as they broke through three separate times on the drive. Junior defensive end Gunner Gibson made way for 1.5 sacks on the possession for a combined loss of 12 yards. The second of which looked like Gibson may have punched the ball loose. Following an unsuccessful UNH challenge the Great Danes retained possession before the true damage was done. 

On fourth-and-24 UAlbany lined up to punt the ball away before Williams broke into the backfield and gave a wake-up call to first-year UAlbany punter Sean Ralls. Williams blocked the punt into the end zone where sophomore running back J.J. Jerome scooped up the ball for the score. This gave the home side a 14-7 lead heading into the locker room. 

The Wildcat defense was able to contain senior running back Karl Mofor to just 14 yards through the first two quarters; Mofor ran for 107 yards in 2019 against UNH. 

UNH’s lead didn’t last long, however. Undercuffler came out of the locker room justifying the praise he garnered from McDonnell on Wednesday. The quarterback picked apart the Wildcat secondary completing 7-of-8 passes for 71 yards on the opening drive out of the half. The equalizing touchdown came by way of an 18-yard reception by redshirt sophomore Tyler Oedekoven in the back left corner of the end zone. 

UAlbany continued to turn the tides coming out of halftime on both sides of the ball. Brosmer dropped back to pass on a second-and-5 before redshirt junior Mazon Walker stripped the quarterback as he wound up to throw.  The Great Danes took over on the UNH 22-yard line. 

The duo of Undercuffler and Mofor finally broke through as the running back reeled in a 9-yard touchdown pass after some poor tackling by the UNH secondary. The momentum swing gave UAlbany a seven-point lead with 7:41 remaining in the third quarter. 

Following a handful of punts, the Great Danes took over in the final moments of the third quarter. UAlbany converted a 37-yard field goal giving their side a commanding 24-14 lead with 11:38 to play. 

Brosmer couldn’t pinpoint anything in particular from UAlbany that led to the shift in the second half. 

“I think we kind of lost our momentum that we built. They weren’t doing anything different that I could tell,” noted Brosmer. 

UNH’s defense found life once again midway through the fourth quarter. On third-and-10 of the ensuing UAlbany possession, junior Niko Kvietkus broke through for a strip sack on Undercuffler. Sophomore linebacker Oleh Manzyk came up with the ball and returned it 13 yards to the Great Dane 25-yard line. 

Brosmer quickly hooked up with Coyne for his second score of the night. The 18-yard touchdown pass put the Wildcats in position to come within three points of the visitors. The Great Danes finally got their revenge from the blocked punt earlier in the night, however. Sophomore kicker Jordan Conn had his extra point blocked to keep the score at 24-20 with just under seven minutes remaining. 

As the minutes began to wind down UAlbany was clutching to their four-point lead and set up to punt with just north of a minute to play. A dropped snap by Ralls, however, and an illegal kick set up the Wildcats for a fairytale ending in Coach Mac’s return to the sideline. UNH took over deep in Great Dane territory with 1:07 to play needing a touchdown. 

Penalties and incomplete passes continued to pile up for the Wildcats, but they had their chance to complete the comeback in the final moments. Brosmer lobbed a perfect ball into the right corner of the end zone intended for senior wideout Nick Lorden. The pass slipped straight through the hands of Lorden, notching the first loss of the season for UNH. 

McDonnell was disappointed in his team’s execution after being penalized 12 times for a total of 95 yards. 

“What separated the two teams was that they executed a lot better in the second half than we did,” McDonnell explained. “They played a lot cleaner in some situations. Our penalties were disappointing.” 

The Wildcats will now have time to clean things up before they welcome Delaware (1-0) into Wildcat Stadium. Brosmer noted how the week two bye could help the team get right in such a short season. UNH will host the Blue Hens on Saturday, March 20 at 12 p.m. Delaware put a beat down on the University of Maine in week one winning by a final of 37-0. This game will be aired on NBC Sports Boston. 

Photo courtesy of China Wong.

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