Column: A-10 upset leaves bleak prospects for Homecoming

Column: A-10 upset leaves bleak prospects for Homecoming

Sunday was an odd day for Atlantic-10 football fans.

I’m speaking of two victories by 1-AA teams over 1-A teams. Northeastern beat Holy Cross 24-14. Now is a moment to be proud of your NU Huskies; losing 38-0 the week before against a powerful program like Virginia Tech can put anyone in a mental hole.

But our fellas who roam Kent Street wouldn’t let that happen in a very meticulous win over the Crusaders. The win makes things even lighter considering the team is starting the season with five straight road games, where funks are harder to get rid of. Now they can practice confidently, secure in the knowledge that they already have that elusive first win.

Unfortunately, the New Hampshire Wildcats’ 34-14 beating of Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., overshadowed the Huskies’ win.

And the week before, 1-AA Montana State beat 1-A Colorado.

These wins weren’t supposed to happen.

But you know what I think? 1-AA programs have had it with these early-season blowouts against the 1-A schools.

Nobody outside of New England could have predicted the Wildcat victory. And granted, Chicagoland still has its mind elsewhere, particularly on former coach Randy Walker, who died unexpectedly earlier in the summer.

“Northwestern’s in a bit of a flux,” said Husky coach Rocky Hager of the team that was 7-5 last season, and played in the Vitale’s Sun Bowl.

There’s also a lot of attention focused on another high-profile team in that area. That’s Notre Dame country, and the national championship buzz isn’t coming from Evanston, but from South Bend, Ind., home of the Fightin’ Irish.

Huskies fans should expect a lot when the Wildcats strut on down for our Homecoming match-up Oct. 21.

“New Hampshire’s a good football team. They have a very prolific tandem in Santos and Ball and they have a nice blend of offense and defense,” Hager said.

That’s junior quarterback Ricky Santos, who really took it to the formerly dominant Northwestern Wildcats over the weekend. Santos exploded for five touchdowns, two passing and three rushing, and 18 of 24 passing for 206 yards. Huskies fans can only hope our young Anthony Orio will someday be like Santos.

It’s not that impressive, however. You could put anyone who knows the basics of football under center and they would thrive in that offense. It’s not a testament to the system, but to one player in particular.

And that’s wide receiver David Ball, who would be a Heisman Hopeful if he were enrolled in a 1-A school.

Ball has been a nuisance for A-10 secondaries since he arrived from small-town Vermont. He is the active 1-AA career leader in receiving yards and touchdowns and could be in the record books by the end of the season.

To do that, Ball will have to leap over legend Jerry Rice, who owns the all-time records for receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.

It’s hard to think that Ball, who has amassed an impressive 173 catches for 3,055 yards and 41 touchdowns the past two seasons, arrived at UNH without scholarship and had to make the team as a walk-on.

It’s also hard to imagine that Ball had 86 catches for 1,504 yards and 17 touchdowns when Santos was a redshirt freshman.

Talk about finding a diamond in a rough.

That rough I’m speaking of is Orange, Vt., a not-so-sprawling metropolis with a population of 965 (smaller than the freshman class of Northeastern).

It will be even harder to imagine how the Huskies will handle him, and his teammates, Homecoming weekend.

I, for one, can’t wait for the matchup, even if things may not go so well for the home team. UNH is the 1-AA powerhouse, and, as Northwestern can surely confirm, has a dangerous offense and defense that can shut anyone down.

That’s why I’ll be rooting for our own offensive master, junior tailback Maurice Murray, who ran for 170 yards this past weekend. He’s the star of the team. As he goes, so do the Huskies.

Let’s just hope we don’t see too much of Ball going by our secondary.

But there’s plenty of time, and forgive me for getting ahead of myself. There’s a big game coming up at North Dakota State, where Hager won two national championships as coach in the late 80s to early 90s.

That promises to be a Homecoming worth watching.

– Matt Foster may be reached for comment at [email protected]

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