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The Contenders
Football gears up for a competitive season

By Kurt Mullen '94
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With the football in his hands, UNH quarterback R.J. Toman '11 looked to help his team hold on to a 25-21 fourth-quarter lead at the University of Rhode Island. It was the third game of the 2010 season, and as Toman looked downfield, a URI defender sacked him from behind and stripped the ball free. Another defender picked it up and ran 39 yards for the go-ahead score.

For the Rams, it was the end of a dismal 12-game losing streak that dates back to last September. For UNH, which entered the game ranked No. 8, it was a shocking upset. For those watching, it was a reminder that nothing can be taken for granted in the Colonial Athletic Association, a league that has become even more competitive since an off-season consolidation.

With the elimination of football programs at Hofstra and Northeastern universities, the association merged its north and south divisions. The absence of these lower-tier programs means a tougher schedule for UNH as they will now play against teams like William & Mary, James Madison, Delaware and defending national champion Villanova more often.

"It's really important that our kids embrace that it's one game at a time, instead of trying to look down the schedule," says head coach Sean McDonnell '78, who is in his 12th year. "It's one of the most challenging schedules we've ever had."

As if to underscore the increased competition, two games were scheduled to be played in professional stadiums.

In their second game—after dispatching Central Connecticut State 33-3 at Cowell Stadium in their season opener—the Wildcats played the University of Pittsburgh at Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pitt, a favorite to win the Big East Conference, was ranked No. 15 in the USA Today pre-season poll. UNH lost that game 38-16, but the 'Cats were widely credited for holding their own against a big-time football program.

It was the first time a UNH football team had played in a pro stadium since 1999, when the Wildcats played in Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. UNH was set to play traditional rival University of Massachusetts on Oct. 23 in the first collegiate game to be held at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.

Good teams have a way of rebounding, and the 'Cats put the Rhode Island game behind them the following week when they beat Lehigh at home 31-10. On an unseasonably hot day before a Family Weekend crowd of 8,100, Toman threw for four touchdowns and a career-high 348 yards.

Players say the team is focused on being the best in the CAA. "There's no specific formula to winning in this league," says Devon Jackson '11, a linebacker and one of the team's four captains. "Every team you play is going to be a legitimate contender."

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