New Hampshire defense fuels first-round playoff win (Nov 25, 2017)
(STATS) - The best part of winning ugly is it still ends in a positive result, and New Hampshire has been in the FCS playoffs enough to know the bottom line is about advancing to the next round.
The Wildcats opened their 14th straight playoff appearance on Saturday by struggling past Central Connecticut State 14-0 in the first round.
Still, the 8-4 CAA Football program won its first playoff game for the 10th time since 2004 and moved on to the second round at No. 4 seed Central Arkansas (10-1) next Saturday.
Veteran coach Sean McDonnell was so annoyed that UNH missed three makeable field goals that he decided against trying a 22-yard attempt on 4th-and-4 when the Wildcats led 7-0 in the final 2½ minutes. Central Connecticut State was penalized for pass interference in its end zone, which gave the Wildcats the ball inside the 3, and running back Evan Gray scored from 1 yard out two plays later to finish off the win.
CCSU (8-4), the Northeast Conference champ which entered on an eight-game winning streak, stayed close in its first FCS playoff appearance despite playing without regular quarterback Jacob Dolegala, who was serving a team suspension. The Blue Devils, who've never beaten UNH in nine all-time meetings, entered the game at plus-13 in turnover margin, but they turned the ball over four times to a Wildcats defense which allowed just 248 yards and posted its first shutout win since a 17-0 defeat of Richmond on Oct. 9, 2010.
Quinlen Dean had 12 tackles, including three for a loss, and an interception. Fellow linebacker Jared Kuehl had two takeaways with an interception and a fumble recovery.
"We've been playing better (defense) all along and today we just kept playing better and put us in those (good) situations," McDonnell said. "Got some stops and then got (CCSU) in deep situations and we found a way to get off the field."
UNH went ahead 7-0 on Trevor Knight's 41-yard touchdown pass to freshman Nick Lorden with 11:56 left in the second quarter. But it took over 2½ quarters to get some breathing room.
Knight completed 26 of 42 passes for 299 yards and one interception. Malik Love had 10 receptions for 123 yards.
CCSU sophomore Tanner Kingsley was 9 of 16 for 118 yards and two interceptions before he was knocked from his first career start with an injury. Running back Drew Jean-Guillaume ran the Wildcat and committed two turnovers as well - an interception and a fumble.