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Football: Wildcats stay balanced against Leopards

Staff Writer

Published: Saturday, November 30, 2013

Updated: Monday, December 2, 2013 22:12

The UNH football team blew out Lafayette College 45-7 at Cowell Stadium Saturday in its first round NCAA playoff game, advancing to the next round to play at the University of Maine next Saturday. It was the first time since 2005 that UNH hosted an NCAA playoff game, and the team had not advanced to the second round since 2010.

The Wildcats put up 551 yards total on offense. Sean Goldrich passed for 267 yards and two touchdowns, while the running backs combined for 294 yards and three touchdowns. 

The Wildcats first scored 2:32 into the game on a one-yard rush by Nico Steriti. The play was set up by a screen pass that Harris took roughly 20 yards to the one-yard line. He ran past at least three would-be tacklers, untouched until being brought down in front of the goal line. On the following play, Steriti ran the ball to the outside right and stiff armed Lafayette’s Matt Smalley, knocking Smalley down before walking into the end zone.

The second score came from a Goldrich 22-yard touchdown pass to R.J. Harris. On the play, Harris was covered aggressively by a safety. The defensive back attempted to intercept Goldrich’s pass at the 15-yard line, but he missed by inches, barreling past Harris and giving the receiver an open path to the end zone. He caught the pass and ran unchallenged into the end zone, giving the Wildcats a 14-0 lead. 

The Wildcats scored in a variety of ways from that point on. Shortly after the UNH offense made the score 21-0 with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Crossan, Nick Cefalo ran an 86-yard punt return back for a score, giving UNH a 28-0 lead with 11:42  remaining in the half. With 35 seconds remaining in the third quarter and a 31-0 lead, Chris Setian scored on a 28-yard rush up the middle, breaking through the line to more than 20 yards of open grass before reaching the end zone. The Wildcats tacked on their last score with Crossan’s second touchdown of the game, a 56-yard run, making the score 45-0. 

Lafayette finally scored with 4:50 remaining in the game via a pass to Mike Duncan, whom backup quarterback BlakeSearfoss hit on the numbers in the middle of the end zone to make what became the final score of 45-7.

The game was shaped by the Wildcat defensive line, which sacked Lafayette starting quarterback Drew Reed 10 times, seven sacks coming in the first half. Many Lafayette drives were disrupted by sacks as big as 10 yards.

“We talk about sacks an awful lot, especially in the preseason, talk about the effects they have on drives,” UNH head coach Sean McDonnell said. “I’m not smart enough to remember what the percentage is, it’s like 80 or better, when you get a sack within a drive, how there’s no scoring … sacks are huge, … It’s such a big momentum thing.” 

After giving up 28 yards to the run while leading 28-0 in the second quarter, UNH responded with a momentum killing sack on the first Lafayette pass play of the drive.  Reed, who completed 20 of 30 attempts for 206 yards, could do little to help his team with the Leopard offensive line. Even when Lafayette used their tailbacks and tight ends to help block, the Wildcats closed in on Reed.

Shane McNeely hit Reed in the pocket to cause a fumble that was recovered by the Wildcats at the Lafayette 22 yard line, leading to Harris’ touchdown reception.  

Just as their offensive line failed to keep the pressure off Reed, Lafayette’s defense struggled to cover Harris throughout the game. When the Leopards covered him man to man, Harris burned the defenders. When they smothered him with coverage, he allowed other receivers to get open. Justin Mello and Crossan both caught three passes, Mello for 49 yards and Crossan for 30 and a touchdown. Harris’s presence defined the field of play for UNH’s offense.

“Whether you’re handing it off to [Harris], throwing it to him, giving him a little bubble screen, the kid’s gonna make a play,” UNH quarterback Sean Goldrich said. “It could be a one yard completion, or even a minus two yards completion, the kid can pull it for 80 yards. He’s so good that I don’t really think that there’s a way to stop him.”

The UNH running backs contributed plenty as well. Crossan, Jimmy Owens, Setian and Steriti rushed for 84, 69, 46 and 53, respectively.

“Unbelievable,” Goldrich said about the UNH running backs. “All these guys can make plays, and it’s good to know when you’re handing the ball off to the.”

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