EASTON, PA. – It wasn’t as glamorous as last week’s home opener, but the No. 23 Wildcats (3-0, 2-0) went into Lafayette (0-3, 0-0) and found a way to escape with a 19-13 win and their perfect record still intact. Junior wideout Brian Espanet and sophomore running back Dylan Laube paced the offense for the University of New Hampshire (UNH). The duo was able to hold off the Leopards just long enough after special teams had the Wildcats down early.
Lafayette set the tone early when first-year running back Michael Hayes took the opening kickoff 93 yards for a score. This was a new wrinkle in a series of special teams woes for the Wildcats through the first three games of the season.
Redshirt junior kicker Jordan Conn missed three field goals in week two and the team failed on a pair of two-point conversions. This trend continued at Lafayette when Conn couldn’t convert on his first two field goal attempts in the first quarter, and again on the extra point attempt following New Hampshire’s first touchdown.
UNH didn’t take their first lead of the game until the third quarter after Conn had left seven points on the board early in the afternoon. Redshirt first-year kicker Sean Lehane took over for Conn by the end of the afternoon, and this will be the case moving forward according to head coach Sean McDonnell.
“It’s been an up and down swing for Jordan [Conn]. It’s a tough situation, he had a hell of a fall camp and he’s run into a thing right now and he’s not hitting it. So, we’re going to go with Lehane.”
The team is now 0-for-5 on field goals and 0-for-3 on two-point conversions heading into week four.
Although the Wildcats struggled finishing their drives early in the afternoon, sophomore quarterback Bret Edwards’ ability to buy time when a play breaks down is what pushed UNH ahead on Saturday.
Espanet scored the first two Wildcat touchdowns on plays where he wasn’t the first read. UNH’s top wide receiver was able to find a way to create space, however, when Edwards was flushed out of the pocket.
“[Espanet’s] got a knack for finding the end zone. He has great hands, and he has a good feel for trying to find spots in the end zone,” said McDonnell.
The recipient of the team’s first two scores says his quarterback is the one who put the team in position to make those plays.
“That’s all Bret, it could’ve been anyone in my spot,” said Espanet. “We work the scramble drill all the time and I just found myself in the right spot. It was a great play by the O-Line and a great play by Bret to buy time.”
Espanet finished his day with six receptions for 57 yards and two scores.
While the junior put the Wildcats over the hump midway through the game, it was Laube who provided the insurance UNH needed in the later stages of the game.
Laube contributed 79 yards on the ground on 10 attempts, six receptions for 64 yards, and three kick returns totaling 79 yards. The back handed Lafayette a knockout blow with 14:43 to go in the fourth. Laube found room along the sideline and scampered 50 yards for a score to give his side a nine-point lead.
New Hampshire knows this was far from their best performance of the year, but they remain confident in their ability to make plays even when they aren’t firing on all cylinders. Espanet says the will enjoy the win for a day before they get back to cleaning things up.
Junior defensive end Gunner Gibson didn’t mince words postgame when talking about how the team played on Saturday.
“Unfortunately, we played down to their level,” said Gibson. “We didn’t come out firing like we did in the last couple games. It was a good win for us, but it wasn’t our best.”
He continued, “we underestimated them. We were all coming into this game like it was going to be a cakewalk, but they showed what they had right out of the gate, so we had to come back and show them what we had.”
The Wildcats will be on the road once again next week for their lone FBS matchup of the season at Heinz Field where they’ll take on Pitt (2-1, 0-0). The Panthers are averaging north of 44 points per game this season, while the Wildcats are scoring 24 per game.
New Hampshire last defeated an FBS opponent in 2017 when they took down Georgia Southern by a final of 22-12. This week’s game will kick off at noon on Saturday on ESPN+.
Photo courtesy of UNH Athletics