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UNH Makes Case for NCAA Berth, Batters Maine

New Hampshire players celebrate their 24-3 victory over Maine in an NCAA football game, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

New Hampshire players celebrate their 24-3 victory over Maine in an NCAA football game, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Durham, n.h. — The University of New Hampshire football team made a strong case Saturday afternoon at Cowell Stadium that it belongs in the FCS playoffs.

Now it just hopes the selection committee agrees. The Wildcats will find out this morning if their 24-3 win over fourth-ranked Maine in front of 10,333 sun-splashed spectators was enough to warrant their 10th straight appearance in the NCAA tournament.

“After beating the (fourth-ranked) team and holding them to three points, I think we deserve to be in the playoffs,” senior cornerback and co-captain Manny Asam said.

The No. 21/24 Wildcats have won three in a row and six of their last seven games, including three against opponents that were nationally ranked at the time.

They’re 7-4 overall and 6-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association. UNH defeated a Maine team that clinched the league title last week and was undefeated in the CAA until Saturday.

“We should be in the playoffs for the way we finished the season,” UNH coach Sean McDonnell said. “I think it’s a pretty good accomplishment. Some things still have to fall our way.”

The selection show is scheduled to be aired this morning at 11:30 on ESPNU.

In beating the Black Bears (10-2, 7-1 CAA) for the 10th time in 11 tries, they also retained possession of the Brice-Cowell Musket, a longtime symbol of the rivalry. The Wildcats went ahead to stay on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Andy Vailas to Jordan Powell midway through the first quarter, and the defense handled the rest.

The loss snapped Maine’s seven-game winning streak as UNH improved to 5-0 this season at home.

“We got beat today,” Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said. “They played better than we did. They did everything they needed to do to win the football game.”

The Wildcats held an offense that was averaging 32.5 points per game without a touchdown. They sacked quarterback Marcus Wasilewski five times and caused two turnovers.

Casey DeAndrade’s interception was the first thrown by Wasilewski in seven games.

“The defense has been much-maligned around here for years,” McDonnell said,”but they showed up today and played about as good a football game as they’ve played all year.”

UNH led 10-3 at halftime and 17-3 late in the third quarter on a 6-yard TD pass from Sean Goldrich to Jimmy Giansante.

The score was set up by Shane McNeely’s strip-sack and a fumble recovery by Sean McCann at the Maine 20.

McCann also had two sacks.

“We prepared very well this week,” said Asam, who had a team-high eight solo tackles and a big fourth-down pass breakup at the UNH 14 to halt Maine’s first possession of the second half. “We made sure we knew what was happening before it even happened.”

Goldrich, who moved up in the pocket to buy some time, found Giansante open in the end zone on third-and-goal with 3:13 left in the third quarter.

Goldrich took over for Vailas in the second half when Vailas re-injured a knee after catching a pass from Nico Steriti late in the second quarter.

Steriti supplied the dagger with a 68-yard touchdown run early in the fourth that made it 24-3.

“I didn’t think they would be able to come back with the wind in their face,” McDonnell said. “That just put the nail in the coffin.”

Goldrich kept the drive alive when he scrambled for a first down on third-and-10.

Steriti finished with 139 yards on 18 carries. His TD was the Wildcats’ longest running play of the season.

“We knew little by little we’d get our opportunity,” Steriti said. “I just ran as fast as I could. I was glad I had the wind with me.”

Maine’s only points came on a 27-yard field by Sean Decloux with nine seconds left in the first half. He missed one earlier from the same distance.

Going into the wind, the Wildcats scored on their second possession of the game. The drive was kept alive by a fake punt on fourth-and-4 from their own 39.

Jullian Turner took the direct snapped and pitched the ball to Dougie Moss, who gained 7 yards on the play.

“It was something I figured we could do into the wind,” McDonnell said. “I told the kids we were going to swing the bat today.”

Later in the drive Steriti gave UNH a first down on the Maine 11 following a 16-yard run. The Wildcats scored three plays later.

Mike MacArthur hit a 25-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 9:52 remaining in the first half.

“Outstanding effort by the team,” McDonnell said. “It had to be that way.”

“Nothing surprises me about New Hampshire,” Cosgrove said. “They’ve had their backs against the wall before this year.”