By Josh Sullivan, Sports Editor
After losing in their opener 54-20, head coach Sean McDonnell and company want nothing more than to come out of this weekend’s contest against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks with a win, and that starts with being a more physical team.
“We practiced more to get better and less to prevent injury,” McDonnell said of the bye week his squad had.
This year’s team has high expectations coming off of a trip to the FCS semifinal, and looks to start the year off stronger than last year, where they began 1-3 before turning the season around by winning nine out of the remaining 10 games en route to one of the most successful seasons in school history.
“Everyone’s aware of what happened last year,” McDonnell said. “We have to go out and get a win, that is huge for us.”
The squad fell to the Mountain Hawks last year 34-27 after being up 27-13 in the third quarter and allowing 21 unanswered points from there. According to senior tight end Harold Spears, the ‘Cats don’t like to say they need extra motivation for any game, but last year’s loss is stuck in the back of their minds.
“You remember what happened last year, so that’s a little bit extra that’s going into this Saturday,” he said.
Spears is from the Lehigh area and worked out with players from the team all summer, making it that much harder to forget the result of last years’ contest, which was the first time Lehigh defeated UNH in ten years
“Over the bye week, we were real productive,” Spears said. “We got back to basics and focused on real physical football. It was sort of like camp all over again, which I think was good.”
From the offensive side of the ball, UNH looks to build off the success quarterback Sean Goldrich (291 passing yards) and wide receiver R.J. Harris (165 all-purpose yards). By increasing the physicality of the offensive line and tight ends on the point of attack and executing better run blocking, the ‘Cats will hope to exploit a Lehigh defense comprised of hard-nosed players. Senior defensive back Stephen Wilmington and defensive lineman Tim Newton were highlighted by McDonnell as players to watch out for, as well as Lehigh’s linebacker corps.
“They’re not big, but they’re fast and they make great tackles,” he said.
As for the defense, they’ll have keep busy trying to contain quarterback Nick Shafnisky, an agile sophomore who likes to scramble and “throws the ball with some zip,” in McDonnell’s words.
“He makes plays and he keeps plays alive,” McDonnell said. “If it’s third and five, he’s getting seven, eight yards on the play.”
The ‘Cats will have to get to the ball quickly and wrap ball carriers up if they want to be successful. The Mountain Hawks aren’t an overly athletic team, but they’re tough and the play the game hard.
“They’re not overly complex, but what they do they do very well,” senior defensive lineman Matt Kaplan said. “They’re quarterback likes to scramble, and if we can get after him, we’ll have a good day.”
Whatever they do, they’ll have to do it without junior linebacker Akil Anderson, who is doubtful with a high ankle sprain. Sophomore DeVaughn Chollette will get the start in his absence.
The game will be played at Cowell Stadium and begins at 3:30 p.m.