There was no wild, spirited fourth-quarter comeback this time.
UNH was routed by the James Madison University Dukes 55-22 in the second round of the FCS Playoffs on Saturday in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight returned from his injury but it wasn’t enough as JMU quarterback Bryan Schor threw for 371 yards and five touchdowns.
Schor, the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Offensive Player of the Year, connected with Terrence Alls and Jonathan Kloosterman for two touchdowns apiece. Similar to their first meeting with the Dukes on Oct. 15 in which UNH lost 42-39, the Wildcats couldn’t slow down the dominant JMU offense. In the first meeting Schor didn’t have one weapon, tight end Kloosterman, and he ended up playing a big role in this meeting.
“Terrific showing by JMU. They beat us in all three phases,” head coach Sean McDonnell conceded after the loss. “They’ve got great players and did a good job coaching and got us good today.”
The ‘Cats led after the first quarter 7-3 thanks to a Dalton Crossan 1-yard touchdown run after the Wildcats started the drive at the JMU 16-yard line. Defensive end Cam Shorey’s first career interception gave UNH the ball after he tipped a Schor pass attempt to himself. Crossan finished his Wildcat career by rushing for 92 yards and two touchdowns. It was all for naught however, as JMU scored 31 unanswered points after Crossan’s first touchdown and 24 unanswered after his second touchdown in the third quarter.
“I think we had some juices going and brought some energy [early in the game],” Shorey said about the team’s fast start. “They’re a very good football team when they’ve got their wheels turnin. We didn’t play as well as we should’ve to stop it.”
Three second quarter touchdown passes for Schor, and one from wide receiver Rashard Davis to Brandon Ravenel, gave the Dukes a 31-7 halftime lead that the Wildcats couldn’t overcome. In the previous meeting between these CAA foes the Dukes climbed to a 42-12 lead in the fourth quarter and it appeared to be a blowout victory. Senior captain Adam Riese replaced an injured Knight in that game and led a spirited comeback by scoring 27 unanswered points but eventually ran out of time as JMU escaped Wildcat Stadium with the 42-39 lead.
McDonnell replaced Knight at quarterback with Riese late in the third quarter to try and spark that same magic but the Dukes didn’t take their foot off the pedal and scored more than 50 points for the fifth time this season. Knight finished the game with 69 passing yards on 8-21 passing and Riese didn’t fare much better as he totaled 74 yards on 8-14 passing and threw an interception. Riese also ran in an 11-yard touchdown with 20 seconds remaining in the game to make the final score look a little better and to wrap up his UNH career with a touchdown.
“I don’t know if we’ve played an offense as explosive as those guys out there with everything they’ve got,” McDonnell said after the game. “You see what they did to a good Villanova team and you see what they did to Rhode Island and Elon. They didn’t let anybody breathe.”
The Wildcats finish the season with an 8-5 record, a one-win improvement from last season’s 7-5 record. They also advanced to the second round of the playoffs after losing at home in the first round last year to Colgate, 27-20. UNH appears to have a bright future despite a dominant senior class leaving.
Starting quarterback Trevor Knight will be a junior next fall and his main weapons at wide receiver, Neil O’Connor and Malik Love, will return as well. Playmakers such as Shorey and cornerback Casey DeAndrade are leaving from the defense but plenty of young contributors flashed their potential this season. Cornerback Prince Smith Jr. won the CAA Defensive Rookie of the Year award as he started alongside three fellow freshman and DeAndrade in the secondary. With much of the firepower returning next year, the Wildcats should once again be a contender in the CAA.