Following a difficult three-game stretch against three-straight ranked opponents, Ed McCaffrey and Northern Colorado will be facing a team in a more similar situation this weekend.
Now, there might not be more than a handful of teams across the country that have had as many COVID problems as UNC this season, but both the Bears and Southern Utah are in desperate need of a win on Saturday.
The Thunderbirds have lost four straight, while UNC has dropped three in a row. But rather than focus too heavily on their opponent, McCaffrey and the Bears are trying to put themselves in the best position to win.
“Hopefully the players that have been practicing this week will be available for the game and hopefully we can continue to eliminate self-inflicted wounds,” McCaffrey said. “Regardless of the scoreboard, let’s take care of our business. Let’s not have illegal procedures and offsides, things that are setting us back that are hurting ourselves. It’s tough enough to compete against any team in the Big Sky. I think we need to play a really clean brand of football — bring our attitude, bring our effort and take care of our business.”
Sophomore defensive end David Hoage has continued to have a standout season for the Bears defense despite the struggles the unit has had as a whole. He’s averaging two tackles for loss per game, which is tops in the Big Sky and fourth in all of the FCS.
The Denver native had his second three-sack game of the season last weekend against UC Davis.
Hoage is just one of many young players who have seen extended snaps this season and despite McCaffrey’s goals to win this season, it’s helped build confidence for the future of the program.
“A lot of our young players are getting an opportunity to play and this is a great experience for them,” McCaffrey said. “We want to win now, but we’re also getting players experience, which will carry over to next season. I really think everybody understands that this is about this game, this season and it’s also about the trajectory of this program. For all of those reasons, I think our guys are going to show up and be ready to play.”
Despite all of the struggles with COVID protocols and putting together a full roster each week, McCaffrey is still attacking each game with the same mindset in his first season at UNC.
“We still have goals that we want to set and we want to achieve. We have a chance to still, if we win out, win the same amount of games as any team that’s taken the field for UNC at the Division I level, but more than anything, you never know how many more football games you have in your life,” McCaffrey said. “Some kids are done after Pop Warner, some are done after high school. We’ve got seniors on this team that this is their last hoorah. They have a lot to play for and we had them get in front of the team and talk about how important football is to them and how important it is that we finish strong.”
Saturday’s game will kick off at 6 p.m. in Cedar City, Utah and will be broadcast on ESPN+, 103.1 FM and 1310 KFKA.