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Kevin Schnepf, Published December 19 2013

Schnepf: Dome deja vu for UNH coach

Fargo - It was back in 2007, the year Appalachian State’s football team completed its string of three straight national championships, when Sean McDonnell experienced his first dome game.

“Northern Iowa,” said McDonnell, whose New Hampshire team lost that 2007 playoff game 38-35.

One year later, McDonnell’s team suffered a 36-34 loss in the UNI-Dome.

Thursday, McDonnell’s 2013 New Hampshire team practiced in the Fargodome, where tonight in an FCS semifinal game, the unseeded Wildcats will try to stop North Dakota State’s bid for a three-peat.

“It was kind of the same feel when we walked into this place,” McDonnell said, comparing the UNI-Dome to the Fargodome. “It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be real loud.”

The undefeated Bison will be counting on the noise generated from 19,000 fans to earn their third straight trip to Frisco, Texas. That’s where they hope to join Appalachian State as the only FCS team to win three straight titles.

McDonnell, New Hampshire’s head coach for the past 15 years, was in Frisco two years ago when the Bison won their first title.

He was there with linebacker Matt Evans, who won the Buck Buchanan Award that is presented annually to the outstanding FCS defensive player.

“I remember hopping back into the plane with Matt, and we both felt we could play with these guys,” said McDonnell, who said the Appalachian State championship teams had more of a wide-open, spread offense. “This (NDSU) is more of a punch-you-in-the-mouth type of team.”

Like NDSU, New Hampshire prides itself on physical football and hard work. It’s been that way at New Hampshire since 1972 – a period of time in which only two men have coached the Wildcats.

Bill Bowes coached them from 1972 to 1998. McDonnell, a standout defensive back who played for Bowes, took over for Bowes. Since then, New Hampshire has played in the last 10 FCS playoffs – the longest streak in the nation.

Tonight, the Wildcats will be playing in their first semifinal game.

“It’s been a program that has Bill Bowes’ fingerprints all over it,” McDonnell said.

It’s a program that has played second fiddle to hockey – a program his oldest son skated for. His youngest son currently plays for New Hampshire’s basketball team.

But for now, the talk of the Durham, N.H., campus is football. It kind of has been ever since the Wildcats suffered an Oct. 5 44-28 loss to Towson – a team that is playing Eastern Washington on Saturday in the other semifinal game.

“It’s safe to say they are not my favorite ball team,” New Hampshire quarterback Sean Goldrich said, hinting he would love to play Towson in the championship game. “Not to look past them (NDSU), but to see them again maybe would be an awesome experience just because everybody gets so hyped up to play them. But we have to worry about this game first.”

And the noise. According to McDonnell: “From what I hear, loud is not loud until you get into this place.”


Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com