Football: UNH eliminates Maine, moves on to quarterfinals
Published: Saturday, December 7, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 16:12
Just over two months ago, the Wildcats walked off the field at Unitas Stadium in Towson, Md., where they had just been dealt their third loss of the season. Their record had sunk to 1-3 and playoff hopes were already slipping away.
Fast-forward eight weeks and the Wildcats found themselves in Orono, ME, taking the field against border-rival Maine in the second round of the FCS Championship tournament. Evidently, the Wildcats’ 1-3 record was not an accurate depiction of this team’s identity.
The UNH Wildcats beat the Maine Black Bears 41-27 in a convincing fashion Saturdayafternoon to move on to the quarterfinals. Sean Goldrich completed three touchdown passes and threw for 291 yards to lift New Hampshire past the 10-2 CAA champions.
The win marked the first time UNH has won two playoff games in a single season in program history.
The Wildcats’ next opponent will be determined by the outcome of the Southeastern Louisiana and Sam Houston State game played tonight at 8:00 p.m. The quarterfinal game will take place on either Friday or Saturday and the location is to be determined.
“I can’t tell you what its like to have a Maine – New Hampshire game up here in December,” UNH head coach Sean McDonnell said. “Everything about it was awesome. Its great for New England football.”
The Wildcats made a critical third down conversion in the fourth quarter to maintain control of the game.
New Hampshire was backed up to its own 10-yard line and it was third and 13 with over 10:00 left in the fourth quarter. UNH was only leading by seven and a three-and-outwould have put Maine in good position to score and tie the game.
But Goldrich was able to find wide receiver R.J. Harris for a gain of 15 yards and the first down. After moving the chains, UNH marched down the field and scored to increase their lead to 34-20.
Justin Mello was on the receiving end of two touchdowns, including a 57-yard completion from Goldrich that Mello took all the way.
Running back Nico Steriti led the running backs with 74 yards on 14 carries. He also completed a 24-yard pass to tight end Harold Spears that put the Wildcats on the doorstep of the end zone. Two plays later, Goldrich connected with Mello on a pass from three yards out to the back left corner of the end zone. The ball was placed just out of reach of the defender, but fell right into Mello’s hands increasing the Wildcats lead to 27-17.
“Great throw,” Mello said following the game. “That’s how we practice it. Put it where only I can reach it and throw it to the outside shoulder. It was a prefect throw.”
Chris Setian also tacked on 54 yards of rushing on 10 carries and found the end zone twice. Goldrich added some production on the ground too, running the ball for 55 yards on 14 keeps.
“I felt a little pressure today and wanted to make sure to keep the negative plays out of the game plan,” Goldrich said. “So when I wasn’t feeling comfortable, I just kind of got out of the pocket whenever I could and tried to protect the football as much as I could.”
Linebacker Akil Anderson recorded 13 tackles while Sean McCann and Julian Turner each earned a sack apiece.
The Wildcats defense was relentless on third-down, only allowing the Black Bears to convert on three of their 13 third-down situations. But when Maine reached the red-zone, the Wildcats could not stop them from scoring once as the Black Bears went 4-4.
“This whole week in practice, we tried to adjust the things we did from the last game,” Anderson said. “The things we did good and the things we didn’t do.”
The last time Anderson and the defense went up against Maine, they only allowed three points.
“We didn’t even want to give up those three,” he said. “We set the bar high for ourselves today and we knew they were going to come out swinging.”
A particularly interesting moment came late in the fourth quarter after Maine quarterback Marcus Wasilewski hit Justin Perillo with a pass for a touchdown. Following the PAT, the score was 41-27.
On the ensuing kickoff, Maine did an onside kick, which was recovered by Mello. The Wildcat was on his feet and had a wide-open path to the end zone in front of him. But rather than taking it to the house, Mello put his knee to the grass, downing the ball.
McDonnell was asked if this was something he had told the team to do so as not to run up the score.
“No, he made that decision,” McDonnell said. “The kid who did it [is] a smart kid, class kid and I haven’t talked to him about it, but I’m really proud of him for doing it. There’s no need to score there. No need to score.
“Just put your knee down and go get the next one.”
Nick Stoico can be reached on Twitter @NickStoico