Allen Lessels' College Football: UNH gridders can't hang on against Central Michigan
By ALLEN LESSELS
Keith Charles makes his way up field in the first half during Saint Anselm's matchup against Bowie State on Saturday afternoon at Grappone Stadium in Goffstown. (Bruce Preston / Union Leader)
The University of New Hampshire football team, looking for its first win against a Football Bowl Subdivision team since 2009, came up just short in Mount Pleasant, Mich., on Saturday afternoon.
Redshirt freshman kicker Ron Coluzzi chipped in a 27-yard field goal on the last play of the game to let Central Michigan sneak away with a come-from-behind 24-21 win over the Wildcats at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
Led by a stifling and promising effort from its defense, UNH owned nearly three quarters of the game and led 13-7 going into the fourth quarter before the Chippewas showed off some of their big-time speed and talent and roared back.
In the end, it was a tough day all around for the state's collegiate football teams.
St. Anselm and Plymouth State both lost their season openers at home on Saturday, but they had this in common, too: They had much more competitive games to start out than a year ago.
The folks at UNH have talked about the need to improve their defense since last season ended and head coach Sean McDonnell vowed the defense would play hard during his Wednesday press conference.
"I expect we're going to run hard to the football," he said. "We've been preaching it and have done it since last spring. I'd be shocked and disappointed if we didn't do that."
The Wildcat defense did not allow Central Michigan to gain as much as a first down until the second period was more than half over.
In the meantime, quarterback Andy Vailas, the junior out of Bedford, and the UNH offense were chipping - sorry - away at the Chippewas.
On its second possession, UNH drove down the field and closed things out with a 16-yard end around touchdown by junior R.J. Harris. A conversion run by Chris Setian, who ended the game on the sidelines because of injury, was just short.
UNH ran its lead to 13-0 midway through the second period when Vailas hit senior Justin Mello in the end zone for a 17-yard score.
The Wildcats came up with a super goal line stand to keep the Chips off the scoreboard early in the third period.
Next time though, Rush directed a scoring drive that ended with his 9-yard scoring pass to Titus Davis and it was 13-7 with 3:13 left in the third period.
UNH answered with a nice drive and a Nico Steriti 2-yard TD run and Vailas conversion run to push it back to 21-7 in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
Rush and Davis (6 catches 184 yards), it turned out, were just getting warmed up.
UNH had Central Michigan pinned deep after a Brad Prasky punt, but Davis got behind the defense and Rush hit him in stride for what turned into a 97-yard touchdown play to tie it with 9:08 left.
Each defense came up with a three-and-out and UNH had good field position and started to move again.
The Wildcats were at the Central Michigan 21-yard line with a third-and-one, but an exchange between Vailas and Steriti got botched and the Chippewas recovered.
They marched methodically from there to their winning field goal.
Bowie St. 35, St. Anselm 31
The Hawks kept pace with the Bulldogs through three periods and it was 28-28 with 15 minutes to play. Bowie pulled away with a pair of touchdowns in the fourth period.
St. Anselm lost its opener, 58-6, to Kutztown State last season.
Sophomore quarterback Andrew Murphy, outstanding as a rookie last year, completed 19 of his 39 passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns and also had two passes intercepted.
Eric Feehan, a senior wide receiver out of Bedford and Bishop Brady High School in Concord, scored St. Anselm's first TD of the season on a 36-yard connection with Murphy.
Junior Justin Bernard had seven catches for 29 yards and a pair of scores.
Castleton St. 35, Plymouth St. 31
The Panthers took a 31-28 lead on a 30-yard field goal by Rob Giles, a junior out of Pinkerton Academy in Derry, with 10:53 left in the game.
Castleton went back the other way and Elias LaCount scored the winning points with his third short rushing touchdown of the day, from 4 yards out, with just under nine minutes left to play.
The Panthers struggled to score points last season. They didn't score more than 20 in a game and averaged just 11.2 per contest.
Senior quarterback Jake Tyler completed 12 of his 16 passes for 194 yards and led the Panthers to 451 yards of total offense. PSU averaged 238.9 yards a game last season.