With just over a minute left in the game and the score tied, UNH's next play called for wide receiver Justin Mello to run an option route. Mello could run out and then come back towards the line of scrimmage – or he could go deep on a go route.
It's safe to say he made the right choice.
Quarterback Kevin Decker hit Mello for a 60-yard touchdown down the right sideline with just 1:10 left in regulation, giving UNH a 39-32 lead that it would not relinquish over visiting Holy Cross.
"I saw [the cornerback] flat-footed and looked up and the ball was put in my hands; great throw by Deck," Mello said. "Good play, good execution."
The home-opening win gave the Wildcats their third straight victory, as they improved to 3-1 on the season. It is also the third straight game that has gone down to the wire for UNH, as the team beat Lehigh in OT in the second week of the season before narrowly defeating Richmond, 45-43, last week.
"Another roller coaster ride," head coach Sean McDonnell said. "Another good football team that we played and fortunately got lucky enough to beat."
Against Richmond, UNH used a 47-yard touchdown pass from Decker to redshirt freshman R.J. Harris late in the fourth quarter to seal the win. Decker said that all these tight games have forced the offense to become more comfortable in pressure situations.
"The offense doesn't really panic," Decker said. "We stayed calm. We know we just have to execute to the best of our abilities and pull the game out in the end, and we've been fortunate enough to do that."
The UNH offense has been spectacular so far this season. Decker is averaging a CAA-leading 310 yards of total offense per game (270 passing), while Harris and junior wide out Joey Orlando are first and third in receptions per game, respectively.
But with Harris suspended indefinitely for breaking team rules, others were forced to step up against Holy Cross.
Mello, a sophomore, had just two receptions, but they went for 107 total yards. And the game saw senior wide receiver Mickey Mangieri make his return to the Wildcat lineup after he sat out the first three games of this season with a concussion and all of 2010 with a broken leg. Mangieri had a career-high six receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown.
"It's just special to be back with my team," Mangieri said. "Just watching them for a year and not being able to part of the family, it's kind of rough. But I'm very, very happy to be back; it's very exciting."
It was a close game from the outset, but a pair of first half mistakes held UNH back from extending its lead. Running back Dontra Peters, who had his best game of the season with 104 yards rushing, fumbled the ball on the goal line at the beginning of the second quarter and the Crusaders recovered in the ball in the end zone. Then a Peters touchdown in the final two minutes of the first half was negated by a holding call, and UNH had to settle for a field goal, giving the ‘Cats an 18-13 edge heading into halftime.
UNH got off to a great start in the second half, as the offense capped off a 79-yard drive with a five-yard TD pass from Decker to Orlando with just over 10 minutes left in the third quarter. But Holy Cross scored the next two touchdowns – a run from senior quarterback Ryan Taggart and a 35-yard pass from Taggart to Gerald Mistretta – to level the score at 25 apiece.
After Chris Setian (eight rushes, 65 yards) punched in a one-yard touchdown run for UNH, Taggart ran in another touchdown, this one from 13 yards out, to tie the score at 32 with 2:30 left in the game, setting up Mello's big touchdown.
Holy Cross still had just over a minute to try and tie the game, but a desperation 33-yard pass into the end zone from Taggart was batted to the ground as time expired, giving UNH the victory.
Decker ended up passing for 354 yards and four touchdowns on the day, while Taggart passed for 412 yards, two touchdowns and his first interception of the season. The UNH defense has given up at least 300 yards passing in each game this season, but has come up big when it has needed to late in games.
"We're pretty confident, because we work for this; every day in practice we work for these situations," defensive end James Jenkins said. "These two-minute situations, they keep coming back and we just have to stay stout together and play as a team and that's what we did today."
UNH returns to action next Saturday at Cowell when the ‘Cats take on a 1-4 Villanova team at noon.