Bring on the Bears: Cats Roll
New Hampshire wide receiver R.J. Harris (15) heads downfield after making a catch while being defended by Lafayette cornerback Draeland James in the first half of an NCAA college football playoff game Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
New Hampshire quarterback Sean Goldrich (5) accepts congratulations after defeating Lafayette in an NCAA football playoff game, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013 in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Durham, n.h. — The University of New Hampshire football team beat Maine to get into the FCS playoffs. Now the Wildcats have to beat the Black Bears to stay in.
They earned a rematch with their archrivals with a thorough 45-7 whipping of overmatched Lafayette on Saturday afternoon at Cowell Stadium in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
UNH and Maine will meet for the second time in three weeks next Saturday (2 p.m.) at Alfond Stadium in a second-round game.
However, before turning their attention to the No. 5 seed and CAA champion Black Bears, who received a first-round bye, the Wildcats will take a day to savor a victory in which they dominated the Patriot League champions on both sides of the ball.
“I thought it was a really good effort by our team,” UNH coach Sean McDonnell said, “especially on the defensive side of the ball.”
The defense set the early tone when end Jay Colbert sacked freshman quarterback Drew Reed for a 7-yard loss on the game’s first play from scrimmage.
It was the first of 10 sacks for UNH (8-4), which had four sacks and a fumble recovery in the first quarter.
The Leopards were averaging 38.2 points a game since Reed took over at midseason, and he’d thrown 17 touchdown passes in 51/2 games.
“I thought our pressure was what it needed to be against this team,” McDonnell said. “We felt with multiple looks and different things (if) we could pressure (Reed) and get him off base a little bit, it might help the cause, and it sure did.”
The Wildcat defense did a good job getting off the field as Lafayette went 1 for 16 on third and fourth down against the starters. UNH finished with 14 tackles for a loss compared with one for the Leopards (5-7).
“They were just aggressive,” said Lafayette guard Brad Borman. “They were incredibly physical up front.”
Six players had at least one sack, with Colbert leading the way with three. Linebacker Shane McNeely forced a turnover on a strip-sack of Reed with Sean McCann recovering the loose ball on the Lafayette 22.
“We talk about sacks an awful lot,” McDonnell said, “and the effect they have on drives. Sacks are huge. It’s such a big momentum thing.”
The Wildcats took advantage of the sudden change on the next play, when Sean Goldrich threw a touchdown pass to R.J. Harris that gave UNH a 14-0 lead.
“Sacks are awesome,” Colbert said, “but as a defense we want to get the ball back for our offense.”
Harris finished with eight catches for 173 yards. UNH outgained Lafayette 551-333, even though the Leopards ran six more offensive plays and had the ball for 13 more minutes.
The Wildcats had four scoring drives of less than a minute and another took 64 seconds. Their longest scoring drive of the day lasted 1:46.
“I thought we were just executing well and playing real fast,” Goldrich said. “We have a couple tempos where we emphasize that we want to push the ball down the field.”
Goldrich passed for 267 yards and two TDs, the other one going to redshirt freshman Dalton Crossan for 17 yards with 12 seconds left in the first quarter that made it 21-0.
Crossan also scored on a 56-yard run midway through the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats’ other touchdowns came on a 1-yard run by Nico Steriti, an 86-yard punt return by Nick Cefalo and a 28-yard run by Chris Setian late in the third quarter. Mike MacArthur kicked a 23-yard field goal on the last play of the first half to put UNH up, 31-0.
The win was the Wildcats’ fourth straight and seventh in their last eight games. It also snapped a three-game losing streak in the playoffs.
“A home playoff game is big for us,” McNeely said. “We love playing here at the Dungeon. We live another day. That’s our motivation, to keep playing.”