ELON, N.C. – It was a handful of their usual struggles that manufactured a 24-10 loss for the University of the New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (3-4, 2-2) at the hands of the Elon Phoenix (4-3, 3-1). The offense’s inability to capitalize in the red zone, on third down, and suspect special teams play were the difference makers in New Hampshire’s fourth straight loss. 

Sophomore quarterback Bret Edwards was left without answers after yet another tough day for the offense. Edwards hasn’t eclipsed more than 131 passing yards since the team’s last win at Lafayette. He was averaging 248 passing yards per game through the team’s first three games. Since their nightmare of a trip to Pittsburgh in week four, Edwards has seen his average drop significantly to just 108 yards per game. He wasn’t able to pinpoint exactly what gave him trouble in his most recent performance. 

“I really don’t know to be honest,” Edwards said quietly. 

New Hampshire head coach Sean McDonnell noted the offense’s inability to provide a clean pocket for Edwards on Saturday; this has proven to be true at multiple points through the team’s first seven games. 

“I thought Bret was running for his life a couple times and made plays, or he was running for his life and had to throw it away,” McDonnell explained. 

Elon’s blitz gave the UNH offensive line and Edwards fits for much of the second half as Edwards was consistently flushed out of the pocket and forced to improvise. While his improvisational skills are part of what propelled New Hampshire to their initial 3-0 start to the season, the Elon front proved to be too fast for the quarterback to be able to make a play much of the time down the stretch. 

The Wildcats struggled mightily on third down against the Phoenix just as they have all season. UNH was 3-of-14 on third down this week and now rank dead last in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) in third down conversions. The team has only converted at a rate of 22.9% to this point. Conversely, Elon is the top team in this category at 47.2%. 

While third down hasn’t been kind to the Wildcats, fourth down has been even scarier. Following the benching of redshirt junior kicker Jordan Conn at Lafayette after a 0-for-5 start to the season on field goals, McDonnell turned the duties over to redshirt first-year athlete Sean Lehane. Lehane hadn’t attempted a field goal until this past weekend where he only converted one of his two opportunities. This put the team’s total for the year at just 1-for-7.  

Lehane’s lone field goal on the afternoon came just one play after Edwards had found junior wide receiver Sean Coyne in the end zone for what would have been the team’s second touchdown on the day. The ball went in and out of Coyne’s hands before hitting the turf. New Hampshire was still able to salvage three points on the drive; however, after the dropped touchdown and missed field goal later in the game, UNH left a potential seven points on the board that could have changed their approach in the late stages of the game. 

Finishing drives and ending them with “sevens rather than threes,” according to junior Brian Espanet has been a point of emphasis since week four for this team. The struggles are still present in the red zone, however. New Hampshire is currently sporting the worst scoring percentage in the red zone in the conference. The team’s 52.4% is more than 10% lower than the next worse team. 

With just four games left on the regular season slate, each one will be dangerously close to the must-win category for McDonnell and his team. It will be the Richmond Spiders (2-5, 0-4) to get the next crack at the Wildcats. New Hampshire will try and put the train back on the tracks in the friendly confines of Wildcat Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 30 for a 1 p.m. kickoff. 

Photo courtesy of UNH Athletics