An offensive shootout was expected for the UNH football team against Holy Cross on Saturday, and an offensive shootout is exactly what it got as the Wildcats narrowly escaped the Crusaders, 39-32, at Cowell Stadium.
Quarterbacks Kevin Decker (UNH) and Ryan Taggart (Holy Cross) led the way for their respective teams, each throwing for multiple scores and sizeable chunks of yardage. In the clutch, though, it was Decker who outshone Taggart and sealed the victory, with 352 passing yards and four touchdowns.
But with the help of a bulked up receiving core, Decker was able to move the ball around efficiently, completing a pass to seven different receivers on Saturday. Decker was 23 of 31 passing.
Despite losing redshirt freshman and last weekend's receiving hero R.J. Harris to suspension – for violating team policy – Decker was equipped once again with senior Mickey Mangieri, who saw his first game action since early in the 2010 year. Mangieri sat out with a broken leg last season, and missed the first few games this year due to a concussion. He caught six passes for 102 yards and a touchdown in his return to the Wildcats on Saturday.
"It's just special to be back with my team," Mangieri said following Saturday's win. "Watching them for a year, and just not being able to be part of the family, it was kind of rough. But I'm just very, very happy I can be back; it's very exciting."
Mangieri said that physically he felt fine during the game, although the first series was tiring.The senior receiver was busy in his return, being targeted by Decker early and often, and especially on wide receiver screens in the flat. Mangieri sprung a touchdown on a 31-yard screen, aided by solid blocking from his fellow receivers. He also attempted a pass on a wide receiver reverse, which fell incomplete.
The return of Mangieri became even more valuable in the third quarter, when fellow senior Chris Chandler came up limping after a catch. Chandler had four catches for 46 yards before the injury, which sidelined him for the remainder of the game. Mangieri and sophomore Justin Mello picked up the slack.
Late in the game with the score tied at 32, Decker hooked up with Mello on a 60-yard touchdown that gave UNH a lead in which it would not surrender. Mello had just two catches on the day, but finished with 107 yards receiving. UNH head coach Sean McDonnell said that Mello has been doing the same thing in practice since last spring: playing hard and showing coaches that he can be a standout player.
"Somebody grabbed me coming off the field and said, ‘Who the hell is Justin Mello?'" McDonnell said. "I'll tell you, every one of these guys in this room will probably say the same thing about Justin that I'm going to say. He's been doing this since last spring. He's been playing like this, and I'm a big believer in you play the way you practice. That kid's practiced very, very well, and we're very fortunate to have him in our lineup at times."
Guys like Joey Orlando, Harris and Chandler have gotten the majority of snaps with Decker in practice, but Mangieri said that he didn't need much time getting acquainted because of his quarterback's ability to throw the ball.
"He puts it on you every time," Mangieri said. "You don't have to do much, you just put your hands up and you catch it. He's a great quarterback, and very easy to play receiver for."
UNH will play for the second week in a row at Cowell Stadium this Saturday, when the team takes on a struggling Villanova squad. Chandler's status is unclear for the moment, but both Mangieri and Mello, among all others, will be preparing for the arrival of the Wildcats from down south.