For the second straight year the Wildcats traveled to California to begin the season, and this year they left with a similar result. The UNH football team failed to gather any offensive momentum in their season opening loss at San Diego State University, 31-0.
On a career night for junior punter Max Pedinoff (11 punts for 422 yards), the Wildcat offense went 0-14 on 3rd down and collected 141 yards of total offense. Sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight completed four of 16 passes for 37 yards and one interception in his first career start.
Head coach Sean McDonnell expressed frustration following the loss, admitting that “[The Aztecs are] a good football team.”
The Wildcat defense came out looking much improved from 2015 and Pedinoff pinned the Aztecs inside their own 5-yard line twice forcing San Diego St. to quickly punt on each of their opening three drives. The ‘Cats were winning the battle of field position early, but once the San Diego St. offense started to move the ball, UNH had no answer. Senior captain quarterback Adam Riese received a few opportunities to spark the offense, finishing with 33 yards passing on four attempts.
On the defensive side, the main focus for coach McDonnell was stopping the Aztecs running game and senior running back Donnel Pumphrey. Pumphrey is the reigning Mountain West Conference Player of the Year and after allowing 199 rushing yards per game last year the Wildcats did not want to let him get loose.
“Everybody figured out what we try to do when we try to stop the run, put about 20 guys in the box,” coach McDonnell said, “and it did okay, but I’ll give credit to their quarterback. He put some balls on people, made some plays.”
The first big play came on the Aztecs’ fourth drive with an 86-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Christian Chapman to junior wide receiver Mikah Holder. Chapman finished the game with 283 yards passing and two touchdowns through the air, both in the hands of Holder. After Chapman opened up the passing game, getting Donnel Pumphrey involved became simpler. Pumphrey completed the game with 98 yards rushing and a touchdown, as well as 41 yards receiving on four catches.
The UNH defense was led in tackles with ten by sophomore linebacker Jared Kuehl and redshirt freshman safety Rick Ellison, both new defensive starters. Senior defensive end Cam Shorey and sophomore Jae’Wuan Horton each registered their first sack of the season in the first half. Overall, the defense started off better than last season when they surrendered 43 points to a less decorated program than the Aztecs, San Jose State University.
Senior running back Dalton Crossan totaled 38 yards rushing and 37 yards receiving to lead the team in both categories and accounting for more than half of the team’s offensive yardage. Despite not putting any points on the scoreboard, the Wildcats flew back east with some defensive positives and coach McDonnell more confident than he was a year ago.
“Let me tell ya, I feel a lot better walking out of this locker room tonight than I did last year walking out of San Jose.”
UNH hasn’t beaten an FBS opponent since Ball State in 2009, but have still made the FCS playoff every year since and have made the semifinals twice in 2013 and 2014. The ‘Cats will try again for their first victory of the season Saturday, September 10 at 7pm in the long-awaited debut of Wildcat Stadium against Holy Cross.