November 25, 2015

(STATS) - The FCS playoffs are familiar territory for New Hampshire. Oddly enough, so is taking on Colgate.

A national semifinalist the past two years, UNH was fortunate just to keep alive the longest active playoff streak in the country. Still, the Wildcats get to begin their 12th consecutive appearance at home - against a team not only from a smaller conference but one they've already beaten in 2015.

In fact, Saturday's game will be New Hampshire's third against Colgate in the past 27 months, and the first two were easy wins. Though the Raiders are coming off a 6-0 season in the Patriot League, this is just their second playoff game since 2008 and they haven't won one since reaching the FCS championship game in 2003.

That's the last year the Wildcats weren't in the playoffs, so not only do they have the experience advantage but also the knowledge that they easily handled Colgate 26-8 on Sept. 12. That game was in upstate New York whereas this one is at Cowell Stadium, where UNH is 19-1 since the beginning of 2013 - the first of those wins was 53-23 over the Raiders.

It all adds up to what seems like a great break for a New Hampshire team which finished in a three-way tie for fourth place in CAA Football, had to close on a four-game win streak to go 7-4 overall and owns only one win over a STATS FCS Top 25 team.

It might not have hurt that UNH athletic director Marty Scarano was on the FCS selection committee.

"Being on the committee and being there during the deliberations when we set the field was a little anxious, I'd say, but also there was the fact that there's just great respect for the program," Scarano told the team's official website. "That doesn't get you into the field, but the fact of the matter is this has become an iconic FCS program."

Many of the players admitted to being very nervous, particularly senior defensive standouts Julian Turner and Akil Anderson, as they watched the at-large bids being announced Sunday.

"I felt my heart hitting my chest," Turner said. "We were sitting up there on the floor and I actually feel Akil shaking and he sees me shaking and we're just going back and forth."

The Raiders received an automatic berth for winning the Patriot title but also finished 7-4. Their most notable victory came on Halloween against fellow playoff participant Fordham, currently ranked 14th.

Unlike that game when it controlled throughout, Colgate never seemed to have a chance against UNH. The Wildcats led 20-0 in the third quarter when they lost starting quarterback Sean Goldrich to a sprained ankle.

Goldrich would miss the next three games. His best football has come during the four-game win streak, throwing for 1,049 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for two scores.

"We are blessed in this program to be a part of this amazing experience," the senior said. "We fought back through a lot of adversity this year."

Goldrich's injury wasn't the only big one in the first matchup. Defensive lineman Victor Steffen, a senior captain and all-preseason Patriot League selection, suffered a season-ending knee injury on the third play of scrimmage.

"I think that really changed the dynamic of the defense for that game," said Colgate's Dan Hunt, the Patriot League coach of the year. "And now they've kind of had 10 games to get used to who we have and who we are on defense, so hopefully that will bode well for us defensively this week."

Since that defeat, only six teams in Division I have more sacks than Colgate's 33. Pat Afriyie leads the Raiders with 9 1/2, and Alex Campbell has six in the past four games.

"We've played them once so we kinda know what we're gonna get a little bit," Campbell said. "It's the playoffs, first time I've ever made it to the playoffs in my life so I'm really excited for it."

Raiders quarterback Jake Melville wasn't sacked in seven of 11 games behind an offensive line led by all-conference first-teamers John Weber and Jordi Dalmau, though the Wildcats got to him three times and held him to 59 yards on 17 carries. Melville has rushed for 435 yards and six TDs during Colgate's current five-game win streak.

His 4.76 yards per pass attempt against UNH is a season low.

"They're going to be ready to go," Turner said of the Raiders. "I know they will be, especially after the taste we left in their mouth when we were down there, beating them at their place. And they have gotten a lot better since the last time we played. They've been on a roll, too."

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