DURHAM, N.H. - Central Connecticut head football coach Pete Rossomando knew his team couldnâ€™t afford to turn the ball over against New Hampshire in Saturdayâ€™s FCS first-round playoff matchup.
He was right, and it cost the Blue Devils a chance to keep playing.
CCSU turned the ball over four times - three interceptions and one fumble - as the Blue Devils fell to the Wildcats 14-0 in their first ever playoff game.
â€śBoth teams played really hard, but we did some things that were a little bit uncharacteristic of everything we did all year, which was turn the ball over, especially early,â€ť Rossomando said.
â€śWe did play well on defense. Overall, we just fell a little short offensively. We couldnâ€™t put the ball in the end zone, had a couple of costly penalties and they came out on top.â€ť
Both of New Hampshireâ€™s touchdowns came off turnovers.
Less than a minute into the second quarter, Wildcats linebacker Quinlen Dean intercepted a Tanner Kingsley pass that had deflected off the hands of CCSU receiver Jose Garcia.
A personal foul on the return pushed New Hampshire (8-4) back to its own 41-yard line, but it didnâ€™t matter.
Just four plays later, Trevor Knight connected with Nick Lorden for the 41-yard touchdown pass over the outstretched arms of Tajik Bagley, who just missed an interception of his own, to put the Wildcats up 7-0.
It was Kingsleyâ€™s second interception of the afternoon, the first coming on the teamâ€™s first drive of the game.
The sophomore quarterback, who was making his first career start for the suspended Jacob Dolegala, completed nine of his 16 passes for 118 yards before leaving the game due to a right shoulder injury with just over 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
â€śIt was a read play against the [defensive] end,â€ť Kingsley said. â€śI just thought I could get outside of him, tried to get down the field, got it twisted and it came out.â€ť
Blue Devils running back Drew Jean-Guillaume and former Middletown quarterback Tyshaun James both took snaps from shotgun to finish out the game. James did not attempt a pass, while Jean-Guillaume went 0-for-2 with an interception of his own.
New Hampshireâ€™s other score wouldnâ€™t come until there was 1:04 left in the game. Evan Gray scored a 1-yard rushing touchdown to give the Wildcats some extra insurance.
The drive that went 11 yards on five plays was the result of a Jean-Guillaume fumble. The running back lost the ball at his own 25-yard line without being touched and it was recovered by Jared Kuehl for his second turnover of the game.
â€ś[CCSU was] coming after us,â€ť said Knight, who completed 26 of his 42 attempts for 299 passing yards with an interception. â€śThey were very stout in the run game. We tried to mix it up in terms of run, pass, but they forced us to go to the air a little bit. They were good on the pass rush and mixed up their coverage a lot. A really good coached team and they play hard.
â€śIf we wanna continue our success through the playoffs, we have to be better as an offense, especially in the red zone. We have to count by sevens, not threes and we have to make field goals when we have the opportunity.â€ť
The score could have been worse, but as Knight alluded to, the Wildcats missed three field goals - a 38-yarder in the first quarter and kicks from 39 and 26 yards out in the third. The Blue Devils blocked the 26-yarder that led to their own field goal try, a missed 47-yard kick by Frankie Palmer.
CCSU (8-4), though, also had trouble getting the ball back to its offense. New Hampshire converted on eight of its 19 third-down opportunities and was 3-for-3 of fourth down. The Blue Devils were just 4-for-12 and lost the time of possession battle 37:29 to 22:31.
â€śYouâ€™ve got to stop [UNH] on third down, youâ€™ve got to get off the field,â€ť CCSU safety Najae Brown said. â€śI think we did an OK job of that, but there were some third-and-longs where we didnâ€™t get off the field when we needed to. I think if we had gotten off the field and given the offense some good field position, that would have been positive.â€ť
But the Blue Devils managed to reach the red zone just once - on their first drive of the afternoon, which ended in Kingsleyâ€™s first pick. It was also on a tipped pass.
CCSU made it to or past the Wildcatsâ€™ 25-yard line just two more times, both in the fourth quarter.
â€śThat first drive we were moving the ball right down the field,â€ť Rossomando said. â€śOn a couple of drives we were moving the ball, we just didnâ€™t have enough to finish at the end. We had too many penalties and not enough accuracy with the football. We missed some open guys.â€ť
Now the Blue Devils head back home, while New Hampshire will make the trip to fourth-seeded Central Arkansas (10-1) next week.
â€śAt the end of the day we didnâ€™t finish when we needed to,â€ť CCSU linebacker Randall Laguerre said.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @DavidGlovach