Wildcats make the cut
UNH to face Wofford in FCS playoffs
The locker room went silent as the ESPNU broadcast of the NCAA selection show for the Football Championship Subdivision tournament began. After just a couple of minutes of explanation of how the selections were made, the first portion of the bracket appeared on the screen. The room erupted with cheers from the University of New Hampshire football team, coaching staff and some family members as "New Hampshire" appeared on the bracket.
For some players, such as senior captain and offensive lineman Chris Zarkoskie, it took a moment to sink in.
"I didn't even see it," Zarkoskie said. "Everyone else started screaming and yelling, I just started crying. That would have been the last football game I would ever play yesterday and that's not how I want to go out. That's not how I want this team to go out because I know we are better than this ... It was definitely tears of joy today."
"A lot of nervous Wildcats," head coach Sean McDonnell said of the moments leading up to the announcement. "We met [before the broadcast] and talked about every scenario... getting the bye, which I said was the wildest dreams."
McDonnell was one of the first to pop out of his chair when the bracket appeared on the screen and was immediately embraced by offensive coordinator Ryan Carty.
"It was a great feeling," McDonnell said.
Coming into the weekend, UNH had an opportunity to win the CAA championship outright and gain a definite position in the tournament bracket with a win over Towson. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the Tigers blew them out 64-35 on Saturday and suddenly, the fate of their season was out of their hands. Whether New Hampshire would play another game this season was left up to a committee.
Having received a first-round bye, UNH will take on Wofford on Dec. 1 in Spartanburg, S.C. in the second round of the tournament.
Now in their ninth straight season of appearing in the tournament, New Hampshire holds the longest streak of playoff appearances in the nation.
The CAA title was shared four ways between Towson, Richmond, Villanova and UNH. Old Dominion also held a 7-1 conference record, but were ineligible for the CAA title because they will be moving to the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision next season. Villanova received the automatic bid to the tournament by means of a tiebreaker.
Many people were surprised to see that Towson did not receive an at-large berth in the tournament. Towson, in addition to having a share of the CAA title, also played two FBS teams this season; Louisiana State University and Kent State. Towson lost to each team, but held LSU, who is currently ranked at No. 8 in the country, to a final score of 38-22. Towson even led for a short portion of that game.
Towson ran over UNH, putting up 415 rushing yards against the Wildcats. New Hampshire will have to improve in this area of their defense when they face off with Wofford, a team who primarily runs the football out of the triple-option formation.
For now, the Wildcats are happy to have another football game on their schedule.
"I haven't heard an eruption like that locker room in a long time," McDonnell said. "It was like a weight lifted off their shoulders and now they [have] another opportunity to play."
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