University of New Hampshire coach Sean McConnell applauds his defense vs. Villanova during the third quarter of their game at Cowell Stadium in Durham Saturday. UNH won 29-28 (.Mark Bolton/Union Leader)
DURHAM - They finished. Man, did they finish.
The University of New Hampshire football team roared back in the final minute and scored on a 4-yard run by quarterback Sean Goldrich and added a 3-yard Chris Setian conversion run to stun No. 12 Villanova, 29-28, and keep its playoff hopes alive in front of 6,332 at Cowell Stadium.
"We finished the game," said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. "We ain't finished a game all season. ... We found a way to win. That's all. We live for another day now."
The Wildcats played tough defense for stretches of the game and evened their overall record at 3-3 and improved to 2-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association. It's very difficult, and sometimes next to impossible, to get into the FCS playoffs with more than three losses.
No. 25-ranked UNH snapped Villanova's four-game win streak. The visitors fell to 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the conference.
Wildcat players echoed their coach.
"The good thing about this game is we finally finished," said senior captain and safety Manny Asam. "We've got to get the feel of finishing and that's what we got today. It's a great win, but there are a lot of things we have to work on."
The Wildcats felt they should have won games against Central Michigan and Lehigh, but didn't do what they needed to at the end.
They fixed that on Saturday.
Things looked bleak when John Robertson, Villanova's uber-productive sophomore quarterback, brought his team storming from behind and put it on top, 28-21 with one minute and nine seconds left to play.
"I think our team has confidence in those kinds of things," McDonnell said.
Redshirt freshman Dalton Crossan brought the kickoff 35 yards out of the end zone and a personal foul penalty gave UNH the ball on the 50-yard line.
Goldrich, a sophomore, and the offense went to work. First, Allison recovered his own fumble to keep the drive alive and then Goldrich hit him for 18 yards. Goldrich teamed with Setian for passes of 10 and then 14 yards and UNH had first and goal with less than 20 seconds to play.
The call play was for a jump pass and the plan went awry and Goldrich went up and came down with the ball and ran it in for the score.
Then McDonnell had to decide whether to try a conversion kick to tie the game or try a two-point conversion.
"A lot of things crossed my mind," McDonnell said. "I felt if we were going to win it, we were going to win it there. I just felt the momentum was there and everything and I thought maybe they'd be a little on their heels."
The call was for Setian on a direct snap. He got the ball, hit the right side of the line and bounced off a defender and went into the end zone for two points and the win.
"All I knew was I had to get across the goal line," Setian said.
"That's all I was thinking about. We got some huge blocks and I was able to bounce. I don't know who I bounced off or what I bounced off, but I bounced and knifed in for the score."
Robertson had one last-ditch attempt from the Villanova 29-yard line and defensive end Cody Muller chased him down for a sack.
It was one of the few times Robertson was unsuccessful all day.
He put up huge numbers and led a furious Villanova rally but the visitors, who have lost four straight in Cowell and last won here in 2003, came up short again.
Robertson rushed 27 times for 256 yards and three scores. He completed 15 of his 17 passes for 122 yards.
He scored with 1:55 left to play on a 2-yard run and Mark Hamilton's kick made it 21-21. The defense forced a punt and Villanova got the ball back and Robertson broke away for a 42-yard TD for the 28-21 lead.
"We relied too much on our quarterback," said Talley, who was unhappy with his defense. "He shouldn't have to run for 200-something odd yards. It's ridiculous. ... It was a one-man show almost for John.
He got us back in the game and we had the game won and we didn't get it done at the end."
This time, UNH did.
"This is one of the best wins I've had in my career here," Setian said. "The defense got off the field at crucial times and played unbelievable. The offensive line played unbelievable."
Setian ticked off a few more elements of the team and then got back to the bottom line.
"We finished the game today," he said "That was our goal."
Setian carried 12 times for 88 yards and caught three passes for 28. ... Goldrich completed 21 of hi 28 passes for 236 yards and one touchdown and scored two rushing touchdowns. ... Junior linebacker Shane McNeely led UNH with eight tackles. ... Junior defensive linemn Matt Kaplan of Franklin had two of UNH's four sacks. ... The Wildcats were not assessed any penalties and Villanova was called for five for 60 yards.