Wildcats defeat Maine to advance
They got their two.
They'll look for more, starting in the quarterfinal round of the FCS tournament next weekend.
The University of New Hampshire football team has set a lofty standard of success over the last decade. The Wildcats have played in the NCAA tournament each of the past 10 years, an accomplishment unmatched by any team in the land. But they had never won two playoff games in the same season.
Now they have.
UNH beat Lafayette last week at home in its first round game and went into a chilly Alfond Stadium and knocked off Colonial Athletic Association champion Maine, 41-27, on Saturday afternoon in a second-round matchup and rematch of league rivals.
Maine finished a fine season with a 10-3 record and lost just two games to FCS teams this year. Both were to New Hampshire and both came in the last two weeks.
UNH stopped Maine, 24-3, two weeks ago at Cowell Stadium in Durham to earn itself a spot in the tournament.
The most recent setback left Maine coach Jack Cosgrove admiring the Wildcats' work on Saturday and their consistency of success overall and talking about how that is something his program will continue to try and emulate.
"That's a very, very good football team and it's gaining momentum and confidence," Cosgrove said. "It was the better team on the football field today. ... We would love to be as consistent as they are, but we haven't been."
The Wildcats won their fifth straight game and eighth in their last nine games and improved to 9-4.
They will take their mounting momentum and growing confidence and move on to a quarterfinal match Saturday at Southeastern Louisiana.
Hosting its first-ever NCAA playoff game Saturday (11-2), SLU, the Southland Conference champion scored a touchdown in the final minute to knock off league rival and two-time defending national runner-up Sam Houston State, 30-29.
The Wildcats were not as dominant defensively as they were two weeks ago against Maine, but again they gave the Black Bears little room to work and again they came up with a couple of turnovers and more impressively got off the field on third down.
"I really thought we stayed the course in the game," said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. "We bent a little bit on defense, but we didn't break. We just stayed the course in the game against a really good football team.
The Black Bears had not turned the ball over in their last four games when last they played UNH. They had a fumble and UNH intercepted senior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski twice that day.
On Saturday, they had two more picks, by Steven Thames and Casey DeAndrade.
The first time around, Maine was successful on only three of 15 attempts at converting a third down into a first down and was 0-for-2 on fourth down. On Saturday, the Black Bears weren't much better: 3-for-13 on third down and 1-for-2 on fourth.
"They're a really, really good third down team," Wasilewski said. "You look at the statistics and what people struggle with against them and that's a situation you want to avoid at all costs."
On the flip side, led by sophomore quarterback Sean Goldrich, UNH was successful on half (7-for-14) of its third-down plays, which was a little better than two weeks ago.
Goldrich passed for three touchdowns, two of them to senior Justin Mello, and senior Chris Setian ran for a pair of scores in the fourth quarter.
Mello scored on a 57-yard pass play in the first quarter and on a 3-yarder early in the third to get UNH's lead to 27-17. Maine got it back to 27-20, but Setian scored twice to put it out of reach.
Mello has 10 TD catches this season and in the closing seconds he had a shot at another score.
He grabbed an onsides kick on the front line after Maine had scored the final touchdown with 21 seconds left.
There was little between Mello and the end zone. He put his knee on the ground.
Mello's call, McDonnell said.
"He made the decision," the coach said. "Smart kid. Class kid. I'm really proud of him for doing it. There's no need to score there. No need. Put your knee down and let's go get the next one."
Ahh, the next one.
UNH is back in the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time since 2010.
The Wildcats have never won an FCS quarterfinal game.
They have a goal for next week.