With Santos At The Controls, UNH Opens 2019 Season At Holy Cross

The University of New Hampshire football team knew all along that it would be starting an inexperienced quarterback in Saturday’s season opener at Holy Cross. What the Wildcats didn’t know is that they would be lacking experience on the sideline as well.

Associate head coach/quarterbacks coach Ricky Santos will be filling in for UNH head coach Sean McDonnell when the Wildcats and Crusaders tangle at Fitton Field (1 p.m.). Santos, who played quarterback at UNH under McDonnell, was named the program’s interim head coach when McDonnell announced last week that was taking an indefinite leave of absence to deal with a health issue.

Saturday’s game will be Santos’ first as a head coach at any level.

“I’m excited about this opportunity,” Santos said. “Coach (McDonnell) has instilled so many morals and values in us and myself as a player and when I was a young coach under him that I feel like I’m ready for this opportunity. I’m going to lean on a lot of the things that he’s taught me. I’m just going to embrace it.”

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Redshirt freshman Bret Edwards is expected to take most of the snaps Saturday. Edwards was informed Monday that he had edged out true freshman Max Brosmer in the two-way battle to earn the starting quarterback job. Edwards, who missed 12 of the team’s 15 spring practices with bicep tendonitis, will be seeing game action for the first time since he played for Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, Mass.

“Last year I was just a young kid out here throwing the ball around where I could to open receivers,” Edwards said. “This year I’ve gotten a lot deeper into coverages and knowing where to throw the ball when I need to and cancelling stuff out. Just having a better mindset when I go out there.

“I think I’ll definitely be nervous. ... Just do what I can do. I think after the first snap I’ll be pretty good.”

Edwards completed 17 of 18 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in UNH’s final scrimmage. Santos reiterated that Edwards’ performance in that scrimmage plus his mobility gave him a slight edge over Brosmer.

“That was a very tough choice,” Santos said. “We went back and forth and every other day we felt one or the other could of got the nod. That final scrimmage we had when he was 17 of 18 and did a great job of really protecting the ball -- scrambled and made some plays with his legs -- kind of put him over the top. We’re looking at them as 1A and 1B, not one and two. We have total confidence in Max Brosmer if his number gets called, but right now Bret is protecting the ball better. He gives us a little more in the run game in terms of extending plays with his legs. Those are a couple (reasons) why we made him the No. 1 guy.

“I think the big thing for him, because he can really extend the plays, is don’t feel like he has to win the game on every single snap. I think the big plays are going to come to him. Play within the confines of the offense. Do a great job of protecting the football and allow the big plays to come to you.”

UNH returned 12 starters -- six on each side of the ball -- from a team that finished 4-7 overall and 3-5 in the Colonial Athletic Conference last season. The Wildcats have a healthy offensive line -- something that hasn’t been the case for most of the last two seasons -- and experienced running backs in sophomore Carlos Washington Jr. and senior Evan Gray. Washington ran for a team-high 582 yards and six touchdowns on 99 carries last season, when he went over the 100-yard mark in three of the team’s final four games. Gray rushed for 292 yards and one TD on 85 carries in 2018.

“I think the offensive line is going to be a point of strength for us,” Santos said. “I think the key for us offensively going into this game and into the season is to establish a run game early. We’re going to have to lean on those guys heavily with the young quarterbacks so we’re putting too much pressure on those guys in the early parts of that game. 

“(Defensively) Our strength is our back end. The two safeties (Pop Lacey and Evan Horn) and the guys who bookend the corners (Prince Smith Jr. and Isiah Perkins) are guys we really need to lean on.”

Scouting Holy Cross

The Crusaders (0-1) opened their season with a 45-7 loss to Navy on Saturday. Holy Cross won its final four games last season and finished 5-6 overall and 4-2 in the Patriot League.

Senior running back Miles Alexander scored Holy Cross’ only touchdown against Navy on a 16-yard run. He gained 40 yards on 12 carries. Senior tailback Domenic Cozier didn’t play in the game because of an illness.

Junior quarterback Connor Degenhardt connected on 16 of 29 passes for 167 yards in the loss. It was his first collegiate start. Junior Tenio Ayeni caught seven passes for 46 yards.

On the defensive side, linebacker Jacob Dobbs was named the Patriot League Rookie of the Week after he made a team-high 13 tackles against the Midshipmen.

Two members of the Holy Cross coaching staff -- defensive coordinator Scott James and safeties coach Casey DeAndrade -- also coached at UNH. DeAndrade also played for the Wildcats.

Guest Speaker

McDonnell attended UNH’s practice Sunday. It was the first time he joined the team since he announced his leave of absence.

“He left a little early, but he talked to the team Sunday and I think that’s going to be his gist of things -- try to come out Sunday and talk to us when we have practice or maybe even before we go out to practice or something like that,” Lacey said. “He talked to us let us know what he expected of us. We’re pretty much going to try to rise to the challenge, especially for him because he’s been there for so many of our kids. 

“In the way he presented (his message) it was very typical. You wouldn’t be able to tell anything’s wrong, but that’s him. He’s one of the strongest people I know. One of the hardest fighters I know. That’s going to be a given. He pretty much seemed to be his good ol’ self when we got to see him Sunday.”

Thrown For A Loss

Saturday’s game will be the 17th meeting between UNH and Holy Cross. The Wildcats lead the series 9-7 and have won five of the last six meetings. The team’s lone loss during that span came in 2017 at Fitton Field (51-26). Holy Cross quarterback Peter Pujals passed for 367 yards and five touchdowns in that victory.

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