Despite the building anticipation and likeliness that this weekend’s crowd will set a record, UMass coach Kevin Morris is getting his team to concentrate on the Wildcats (4-3, 2-2 Colonial Athletic Association).
“Well, it’s UNH, that’s what we’re thinking about, that’s what we’re focusing on,” Morris said to UMass Athletics. “That’s always a lot of excitement; it’s the New England rivalry and it’s been a great game year after year. It’s going to go right down to the wire and our kids are ready for a big one, we need to bounce back after last week, so we’re excited about playing.”
The No. 12 Minutemen (4-2, 2-1 CAA) are coming off a last-minute heartbreaking loss to Richmond on homecoming weekend. Despite failing to complete a pass until the final drive, the Spiders offense put together an impressive game-winning march to defeat UMass, 11-10.
No. 10 UNH, meanwhile, is looking for its third-straight victory after defeating Richmond, 17-0, on Oct. 9 and James Madison, 28-14 last week.
The Wildcats outscored the Dukes, 18-0, in the second half to earn their first win at JMU since Sept. 28, 1996. Linebacker Matt Evans led the defense, recovering a fumble for a touchdown, forcing another and totaling a game-high and career-high-tying 14 tackles.
“Defensively, they’re playing really well,” Morris said. “They really shut JMU down last week and Matt Evans was the all-performer player of the week at linebacker for them. They have kids on all three levels that have played the game for a long time. They have fifth-year seniors that are running that crew.”
While UNH ranks second-to-last in the CAA in rushing offense at 124.7 yards per game, the strength of the team lies in the passing game. Quarterback R.J. Toman is averaging 231.0 yards per game, good for first in the conference, just ahead of UMass’ Kyle Havens (210.8).
“Offensively, it starts with the quarterback [R.J. Toman],” Morris said. “He’s an outstanding player. He’s been the player of the year in our league, so it all starts with him and he’s an outstanding player still. We have to make sure we keep him under wraps as much as possible.”
The rivalry between the Minutemen and the Wildcats dates back to 1897, making it the longest dated active series. The teams have matched up every season since 1952, with UMass holding a 43-26-3 all-time lead.
After UNH ended a three-game losing streak with a win in 2008, the Minutemen claimed a 23-17 victory on homecoming at McGuirk Stadium last season.
Then-sophomore Jonathan Hernandez filled in for Tony Nelson and amassed a career-high 166 yards, including the game-winning 42-yard run with five minutes, 23 seconds remaining in the contest. Defensive back Kumar Davis sealed the win with an interception in the end zone on the game’s final play to upset Wildcats.
“This has been a rivalry forever,” Morris said. “UMass never wants to lose to UNH in any sport, particularly in football. We’ve been very successful over the years here and look to continue to be so.”
The last time the Minutemen played a game at an NFL stadium was on Nov. 2, 1991, at Foxboro Stadium. UMass topped Northeastern, 27-12, in front of a crowd of 4,620.
After UNH, the Minutemen will take on conference foe JMU on the road before hosting Maine and Delaware in their final two home games of the year.
Jay Asser can be reached at email@example.com.