By GREG LAUDANI
It’s only fitting that once the Wildcats returned home to Cowell Stadium, they turned in their best performance of the season. The UNH football team clicked on all cylinders in its 57-14 win over Central Connecticut State University in the Wildcats’ home opener Saturday night.
“We needed to get back on track and I thought we did that today playing the way New Hampshire plays,” UNH head coach Sean McDonnell said.
The biggest question mark for the Wildcats after last week’s loss at Stony Brook was at the quarterback position. With Sean Goldrich’s health in question with a high ankle sprain, UNH needed a way to replace its star quarterback for however long he remains sidelined.
Adam Riese provided some answers Saturday night, completing 14 of 21 passes for 188 yards and three touchdowns in his first collegiate start. Trevor Knight backed up Riese and connected on all four of his passes for 64 yards and also ran for a score. UNH totaled 252 yards passing and 235 yards on the ground.
“I thought Adam had a great command of what we wanted to do,” McDonnell said. “This week I thought Adam practiced well and did a very good job of leading the team.”
Riese got into a rhythm early and did away with any nerves he had coming into his first start.
Up 3-0 early in the first quarter, Riese marched the Wildcats 70 yards in 7 plays and capped the drive with a 37-yard touchdown toss to receiver Amechie Walker, Jr. Riese floated the ball up high and dropped it in Walker’s hands in stride down the right sideline. Just like that, UNH had jumped out to an 11-0 edge.
“It was a play that we practiced all week,” Walker said. “Riese hit me on it a couple times this week, so it really wasn’t anything new.”
From that point on, the lead would continue building and building some more. New Hampshire was up 46-7 at halftime and led by as much as 54-7. CCSU never made a push to get the game close.
“We practiced it [touchdown play to Walker] all week,” McDonnell said. “We caught them in the coverage we thought they were going to be in and [Riese] put it right on [Walker], which was huge.”
Late in the first quarter, defensive tackle Cryus Boone sacked CCSU quarterback Tavion Pauldo and stripped him of the ball. Linebacker Ryan Farrell returned the fumble 15 yards for a touchdown that boosted UNH’s edge to 25-0 with 1:03 to play in the first frame.
“The defense is making plays and that just puts a lot loss pressure on us having the defense give us great field position, turning the ball over and especially having a defensive touchdown,” Riese said. “That’s just an awesome feeling and it was a great job on their part.”
CCSU running back Cameron Nash scored on a 70-yard dash in the second quarter to narrow the lead to 32-7. While it seemed like the Blue Devils were gaining some steam, the Wildcats did not wait long to squash their momentum.
The Wildcats’ defense allowed only 117 yards passing between Blue Devil quarterbacks Tavion Pauldo and Jacob Dolegala. CCSU had more success running the ball, gaining 229 yards as Nash led the team with 161 yards on the ground.
Following Nash’s touchdown, Riese delivered a perfect strike to Dalton Crossan in stride over the middle for a 48-yard touchdown. The pitch and catch widened New Hampshire’s lead to 39-7. Crossan also led the team in rushing with 74 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
Riese came back two possessions later and marched the Wildcats 79 yards in nine plays to score again with just 11 seconds left before halftime. Riese found Jordan Powell for a 10-yard touchdown for a 46-7 halftime lead. Powell led the team with 53 receiving yards.
After the game, Riese said he felt more comfortable than he did last week at Stony Brook.
“Coming out here in the Dungeon, you can’t ask for anything better than that,” he said. “With the atmosphere we had, I had a little bit of jitters and nervousness in the beginning. But I felt like I settled down and just tried to stay within the offense.”
Veteran defensive back Casey DeAndrade also praised UNH fans that came out for the home opener. DeAndrade recorded six tackles and a sack on Saturday.
“Our fans were really good tonight and they just pick us up,” he said. “Especially we had a couple plays on defense where we got backed up in our own end and hearing them really gave us an extra little bump, so it was awesome.”
Riese did not play in the second half and made way for Knight and Chris McCormick to get some playing time. Knight played the entire third quarter and threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Walker. Knight showed off his speed on a nine-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
McCormick stepped in at the end of third and played the entire fourth, rushing six times for 25 yards.
McDonnell said the combination of Riese, Knight and McCormick gives the team depth at the quarterback position. The head coach said UNH will use the services of each player for the foreseeable future.
The Wildcats look to improve to 1-1 against Colonial Athletic Association opponents when they welcome Elon University on Oct. 3 at 3:30 p.m.
Prison Break: Wildcats stifle CCSU Blue Devils in the Dungeon
By GREG LAUDANI