UNH Football: “Biggest game in five years” UNH vs. Elon game preview


Karl Deblaker

Dylan Laube vs. Elon (2021)

Spencer Marks, Sports Editor

Durham N.H. – After a dominant win in Dartmouth, the #25 University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (5-2, 4-0) will look to continue their revenge tour this weekend as they play host to the #21 Elon University Phoenix (5-2, 3-1) during the university’s Family Weekend. 

In his mid-week press conference, Wildcats head coach Rick Santos did not sugarcoat the importance of this game. 

“This is a huge opportunity for our program. I talked to the guys yesterday about it, we’re not gonna shy away from this, it’s the biggest game we’ve played in five years,” Santos said, “It’s championship implications on the line. We don’t wanna feel like we need to win the championship on Saturday, we wanna play like a champion.”

Playing like champions is what the Wildcats are going to have to do if they want to take down this talented Phoenix team that averages 27 points per game. 

It all starts with their quarterback redshirt senior Matthew McKay. Through seven games, Mckay has completed 123 of 204 passes for 1813 yards. He’s thrown 14 touchdowns and has only been intercepted three times. There is no secret that he is a dual threat as McKay also ranks second in rushing on the team with 263 yards and three touchdowns. He averages 37.57 rushing yards per game.

But Mckay would not be as successful without his skilled offensive weapons to help him out. In fact, he has five pass catchers with over 100 yards on the season. Two of the most notable ones consist of senior wide receiver Bryson Daughtry and senior wide receiver Jackson Parham. 

Daughtry leads the Phoenix with a total of 588 yards on 31 receptions for an average of 18.97 yards per catch and 84 receiving yards per game. He also has four touchdowns and a long reception of 74-yards. Parham is not too far behind with 498 yards on a team-leading 34 receptions and four touchdowns.

A large point of focus for Elon is their run game. Redshirt freshman running back Jalen Hampton has plenty of success this season with 133 carries and a Phoenix-leading 545 rushing yards, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. He has five touchdowns and has a long rush of 48 yards. 

The ‘Cats sophomore defensive tackle Neil Politano expressed that the defense as a whole understands that the Phoenix are going to try to run the ball a lot this weekend. 

“They really like to run the ball, I think they’re gonna come in here and try to run the ball on us and we’re gonna see how that goes,” Politano said.

The defensive tackle also mentioned how the turnover margin has to be a huge point of emphasis for the Wildcats this week in an effort to keep the Phoenix score low. This is something Elon has excelled in all season as they have 13 takeaways (three interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries). Sophomore running back Isaac Seide spoke to the media on Wednesday about the importance of ball security going into this weekend’s game.

“We’re definitely aware of their ability to create turnovers, especially forcing fumbles,” Seide said, “We work ball security as part of our practices every single week, but it’s definitely been emphasized this week.” 

These 13 turnovers are all credited to the powerful Phoenix defense led by senior defensive back Marcus Hillman along with the senior linebacker duo of Devonte Chandler and Jamir Malone. 

Hillman has a team-high of 48 total tackles with 33 solo stops. He also leads the team with nine tackles for loss for 42 yards, three and a half sacks for 29 yards, and four quarterback hurries.  Chandler has 39 total tackles with 19 solo and a team-high 20 assists. He also has five tackles for a loss with five for 16 yards and one sack for nine yards. Malone has 37 total tackles with 22 solo and three and a half tackles for a loss of 10 yards and a team-high three forced fumbles. 

“They [the Elon defense] look very solid, they are a very respectable team,” Seide said, “This is gonna be a really good game. We are looking to really set the pace early on as an offense to get things going and to really execute especially down in the red zone.”

The ‘Cats are 20 for 24 on red-zone scores and 15-24 on scoring touchdowns when making it to the redzone. Specifically last week vs. Dartmouth, UNH drove down to the Big Green one-yard line and their drive was halted following an interception on a run-pass-option play call. Coach Santos blames the coaching staff for not calling a running play. This is a mistake the Wildcats might not be able to afford vs. the Phoenix.   

Elon lost 17-10 last week to fellow CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) competitor University of Rhode Island (4-2, 2-1). The last time the Phoenix was on the wrong side of the final scoreboard was in week one following a 42-31 loss to Vanderbilt. That close loss was followed up by a five-game winning streak. 

Some good news for the Wildcats is that junior running back Dylan Laube will be returning to action for this weekend’s game following a lingering shoulder injury. You can see all the action of this crucial conference game play out this Saturday at 1 p.m. on FloSports. 

But if you’re planning on making the trip to Wildcat Stadium, here is our very own personalized weather report from @weatherremarks

Big games deserve classic crisp to ideal Fall conditions, and we have a dandy in Durham! While sunny skies will warm the gridiron and Wildcat fans, for early tailgaters, bundle up as it’ll be in the mid to upper 40s when the fields and lots open. Temps rapidly rise into the mid to upper 50s later in the morning and top out in the low to mid60s by kickoff at 1 p.m. Winds will be out of the SSW at 5-8mph, gusting to 10-15mph.