Wofford Runs Over UNH to End Wildcats’ Season
Spartanburg, s.c. — Eric Breitenstein led Wofford through its first steps of a Football Championship Subdivision playoff trip the Terriers expect to finish much farther on down the road.
Breitenstein rushed for three touchdowns and 247 yards yesterday in Wofford’s 23-7 victory over New Hampshire yesterday.
Since the team began its offseason preparations, Breitenstein’s pointed at a national championship, something the Terriers looked capable of chasing with their dominant showing over the Wildcats (8-3), of the Colonial Athletic Association.
Breitenstein made sure he and his teammates were ready for their playoff opener, yet aware there was more to accomplish. “You have to focus on this game, but you’ve got to know what you’re fighting for,” he said.
Wofford (9-3) ended with 479 yards of offense, 454 on the ground. The Terriers held potent New Hampshire to 238 yards, its second-worst showing of the season, and well off its average of 471 yards coming in.
And it was Breitenstein who made the biggest statements for Wofford. He broke free for a 54-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-short on the Terriers’ first possession. When New Hampshire showed signs of life on Cody Muller’s 14-yard fumble return score to cut Wofford’s lead to 13-7 early in the second half, Breitenstein responded with runs of 45 and 26 yards, the last for a touchdown that all but clinched things.
“When he has a good day,” Wofford coach Mike Ayers said of his fifth-year senior Breitenstein, “somehow, some way, we’re going to win.”
The Terriers came in as the country’s second-best FCS rushing team at more than 348 yards a game. They had surpassed that total in the third quarter and ended with 454 yards on the ground.
New Hampshire lost its opening playoff game for the second straight season. Quarterback Sean Goldrich was 17 of 29 for 113 yards passing with two interceptions and a fumble as the Wildcats closed the year to two straight defeats.
New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell said Wofford’s run-based offense, led by Breitenstein, is difficult to prepare for when you don’t see it much. “It’s like teaching another language in two weeks,” he said.
Wofford and New Hampshire came into their first-ever meeting not having played in two weeks — and the rust showed.
The Wildcats ended two first-half drives by interception and another by a fumble. The Terriers weren’t much better, turning the ball over on a fumble on their first pass attempt of the game. They were also stuffed on fourth-and-short at midfield to end another drive.
Each team committed four fumbles the first two quarters. But Wofford had Breitenstein and that was the difference in the first half.
The country’s third leading rusher in the FCS broke free for a 54-yard touchdown run on the Terriers’ first series for a 7-0 lead. He gained 41 yards on Wofford’s 10-play, 67-yard scoring drive, ending the series with a 6-yard touchdown run.
Wofford also stepped up against New Hampshire’s rushing attack, which ranked 13th nationally and second in the CAA this season. The Wildcats had just 23 yards on 17 carries before halftime.
The Terriers stuck with their run, run and run some more style, gaining 275 yards in the opening half. Breitenstein had 173 of those, averaging more than 10 yards a rush.
It took a Wofford miscue to lead to New Hampshire’s only score, Muller scooping up tailback Donovan Johnson’s fumble and returning for the TD that drew the Wildcats within 13-7.
But Wofford and Breitenstein quickly answered right back. He had a 45-yard gain to the New Hampshire 26, then followed on the next play with his third touchdown.
Ayers, in his 25th season as coach, was pleased with Breitenstein, but giddy over his defense’s play. “To win championships, you’ve got to be great on defense,” he said. “And we’re a heck of a defense.”
Breitenstein, one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award given to the year’s top FCS player, extended his own school record to an even 1,900 yards rushing this season.