UNH Football: The Battle To Be The King of New England Preview

Spencer Marks, Sports Editor

Durham N.H.- Following their impressive win over Fordham in the first round of the NCAA FCS playoffs, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (9-3, 7-1) will travel an hour and a half south to Worcester, Massachusetts to play the University of Holy Cross Crusaders (11-0, 6-0) in what junior offensive lineman Matt O’Neill describes the winner as “the King of New England”. 

UNH’s 52-42 win over the Rams was a huge confidence booster for the team. Head coach Rick Santos described this game as a “back-and-forth slugfest.”

The brightest spot for the Wildcats going into this second-round matchup has to be junior running back, Dylan Laube. The star running back racked up an incredible stat line of 29 rushes for 157 yards and three touchdowns along with four receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown. 

After totaling 424 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns he was named CFPA FCS National Performer of Week 13. Another accolade for Laube was that his first touchdown on the day was picked up by various big-time social media sources such as @ESPNCFB.

Going into this week one of the main points of focus that Santos zoned in on was to “stop the run first and work hard to get them into obvious passing situations” Santos said, “Hopefully, our defensive line can find a way to get to the quarterback when we know they’re going to throw it because I think they are so balanced offensively.”

The Crusaders do hold a talented offense and it all starts with their junior quarterback, Matthew Sluka. He has completed 135 of 224 passes for 2301 yards and 25 touchdowns in 11 games; he’s been intercepted three times. He completed 12 of 15 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns in his last game. Sluka also leads the Crusaders in the rushing game as he ran the ball 165 times for 918 yards and eight touchdowns. He averages 83.45 yards per game and has a long rush of 66 yards. 

Senior safety Joe Eichman thinks highly of Sulka as he touted him during his mid-week press conference. 

“Their quarterback [Sulka] is really good, he’s a dual threat which we struggled with early in the year (alluding to NC Central’s Davius Richard),” Eichman said, “He’s a good runner, he can throw, and when you watch the film the first person rarely tackles him.”

Sulka is also successful due to his offensive weapons. Senior Peter Oliver is the team’s starting running back. He has recorded 129 rushes for 785 yards and five touchdowns. He has a long rush of 41 yards and averages 71.36 rushing yards per game. His backup is sophomore Jordan Fuller who has rushed 107 times for 528 yards and a team-leading 13 touchdowns.

For the Wildcats, it will be imperative to stop Oliver and Fuller to have a strong defensive performance. 

The UNH corners will have their hands full too as Holy Cross has three players with over 400 total receiving yards. Junior wide receiver Jalen Coker leads the Crusaders receiving core with a total of 838 yards on 42 receptions for an average of 19.95 yards per catch and 76.18 receiving yards per game. He has 10 touchdowns and his longest reception of the year was a 62-yard gain. 

Right behind him are sophomore and senior wide receivers Justin Shorter and Ayir Asante. Shorter has caught 30 passes for 415 yards (37.73 per game) and four touchdowns. Asante has racked up 19 receptions for 413 yards (37.55 per game) and five touchdowns. 

The Crusaders’ defense is led by senior linebacker Liam Anderson, who has a team-high of 70 total tackles (23 assisted) with 47 solo stops. His impressive stat line consists of 11 and a half tackles for loss (50 yards), three sacks (28 yards), one forced fumble (one recovery), two pass breakups, one interception, and four quarterback hurries. 

Senior free safety Walter Reynolds is the backbone of the Holy Cross secondary. Reynolds has recorded 59 total tackles with 41 solo stops along with three interceptions, a forced fumble (one recovery), and eight pass breakups.

The defensive line is showcased by senior Jake Reichwein. He has seven and a half tackles for a loss (54 yards), six and a half sacks (53 yards), and eight quarterback hurries. 

Holy Cross’s defense has 18 takeaways (10 interceptions, eight fumble recoveries) while the offense has three giveaways (three INTs, zero fumbles lost). 

Santos has expressed that his game plan does not change knowing that the Crusaders have very few giveaways throughout the whole season. 

“The first and second guy has to tackle, wrap up, and everyone else when we gang tackle has to go after it [the ball],” Santos said, “It shows how well coached they are. Obviously, they have really talented football players but it’s something where it is evident that the coaching staff is harping on that on a daily basis.”

Being that Holy Cross has a perfect and undefeated 11-0 record and that they were gifted a first-round bye, this will be their time out for a game since two weeks ago when they dominated fellow Patriot League opponent Georgetown by a score of 47-10. 

Some good comparison for Wildcat fans is that Fordham played the Crusaders much closer than they did to UNH. When Fordham traveled to Holy Cross the teams went to Overtime and Holy Cross squeaked away with a 53-52 win. When they traveled to the UNH, the Wildcats took care of business beating them by a commanding 10 points. 

Weather Forcast for Worcester Mass. on Saturday at 12:00 p.m. kickoff (Courtesy of @Weatherremarks):

Bring your rain gear but leave the umbrellas at home as the elements will certainly play a part in today’s 2nd round of the FCS playoffs. While temps will be in the low to mid-50s throughout the game, windy and wet weather wallop Worcester just in time for kickoff. Showers and breezy conditions commence around 10 am, becoming heavier and gustier throughout the 1st half. Winds will be howling out of the SSW at 18-20mph with gusts up to 35-45mph. While winds persist in the second half, rain tapers off later in the 4Q. Go Cats!


Catch all the action of the NCAA FCS Second Round play out on ESPN+ (Don’t have ESPN+…? Follow @spencermarks8 on Twitter for live updates the whole game) as UNH looks to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2017.