DURHAM – There was a 56-yard long ball on the first play and a kicking contest after the first quarter. The new class of recruits was introduced at halftime and linemen tried to catch punts at the end.

All in all, it was a lighthearted Blue-White scrimmage for the University of New Hampshire football team on Saturday.

“It was fun today. I thought we were all flying around out there with a lot of energy,” said Trevor Knight, who is about to enter his senior season as a three-year starter at quarterback for the Wildcats. “We mixed it up a little bit and I thought it was a lot more fun that way.”

Knight connected with Benyeal Hill for a 56-yard reception on the first play of the day at Wildcats Stadium, but he completed just two passes after that and finished the day 3-for-9 for 71 yards. But Knight did run 48 yards on six carries, and scored the scrimmage’s only touchdown with a 5-yard run on the game’s third play.

“Trevor had a really good finish to spring practice,” said Sean McDonnell, who is entering his 19th season as New Hampshire’s head coach. “Not that anything was going on or going wrong, but to me the last three days of spring he really got stuff going, making great run reads and you saw him today do a really good job with that.”

The scrimmage lasted just three quarters, but the offense managed only 13 total points during that time. Flip it around, and that’s a good sign for the other side of the ball.

“It was a great day for the defense,” said linebacker Jared Kuehl, the Plymouth product who will be one of the Wildcats’ three senior captains next year along with defensive end Jae’Waun Horton and running back Trevon Bryant. “Any time you only give up 13 points, it’s great. We let up some big plays here and there, so we’ve go to get better at that, but it was a good day.”

The UNH defense gave up just five completions on 21 attempts from four different quarterbacks and 242 yards of total offense. The Wildcats also finished with eight tackles for a loss (including four sacks) and three pass breakups (including an interception). Nine defensive starters return from last year’s 9-5 team, which extended the program’s streak of playoff appearances to 14 straight, the best in the nation.

“I think we’ve just got to keep climbing on the defensive side of the ball, find a couple of defensive tackles to help us out because I feel pretty good about a couple of the positions,” McDonnell said. “I feel good about linebacker, I feel good about the defensive end position and our safeties and corners are good.”

Some of the stars of that loaded defense played on Saturday – Kuehl had three tackles, linebacker Quinlen Dean, tackle Ryan Sosnak and safety Evan Horn each had two, and corners Prince Smith and Alonzo Addae and safety Pop Lacey had one – but the biggest numbers came from the second string.

Sophomore defensive end Riley Ammerman finished with three tackles for a loss, including a sack, and four tackles total. Redshirt freshman linebacker Kyle Hamper led the team with six total tackles, and redshirt freshman safety Pop Bush came up with the game’s only turnover when a pass from No. 2 quarterback Christian Lupoli bounced off tight end Alex Hiltz and Bush snagged the floating deflection.

“The defense, we’ve got a lot of guys coming back … we’ve all been around each other for a while. We vibe together,” said Horton, who sat out with a minor ankle injury. “We always bring the juice, whether we mess up or make a play, everybody is always hyped.”

To be fair, the offense was very short-handed. The ’Cats were missing thee linemen expected to be starters (tackles Dane Herron and Noah Robison and guard Nick Velte), their top two receivers (Neil O’Connor and Malik Love) and their top two running backs (Evan Gray and Bryant). All of those players are expected to be ready when the season begins.

Despite the makeshift offensive line, redshirt freshman running back Carlos Washington Jr. finished with 53 yards on nine carries and looked impressive doing it, just like he has all spring.

“The kid that keeps standing out all spring is Carlos Washington,” McDonnell said. “He’s run very, very well and his natural instincts are going. He’s had a hell of spring and he just showed it again today.”

Merrimack Valley product Ivan Niyomugabo, who recently moved from quarterback to wide receiver, had one of UNH’s five catches. Niyomugabo hauled in a 7-yard pass from Stephen Hedberg early in the second quarter.

“Ivan’s good, he’s picking it up,” Knight said. “It’s tough transitioning, it seems like it would be easy, you just go run routes, but there’s so many little things to it and he’s picking up on that. He doesn’t have any (missed assignments) where he does the wrong thing. He knows what he’s doing. As soon as he perfects the little things, he’ll be another weapon for us.”

Sean Coyne won the three-man field-goal kicking contest after he booted one from 45 yards out. Coyne, a redshirt freshman from Rhode Island, also made a 29-yarder during the game. Jason Hughes, a sophomore from Atkinson and Timberlane, kicked a 30-yard field goal.

Franklin’s Patrick Kaplan, a sophomore defensive tackle, was the lineman with the best hands and won the punt-catching showdown. That contest ended the scrimmage and the 15-practice spring session for the Wildcats, who erupted in delight when Kaplan, who also had a tackle, caught the final punt.

“This is the best spring that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Knight said. “Everyone got so much better this spring and it’s been such a great offseason through the workouts and everything, just so much energy. So it was good to finish off here. I think Coach Mac let us have a little bit more fun today because hopefully we made him a little happy with the spring.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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