UNH players run onto the field in celebration after defeating the Southeastern Louisiana Lions 20-17 at Strawberry Stadium on Saturday night. (Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports)
College Football: UNH in FCS semifinals for first time ever
Sophomore quarterback Sean Goldrich drove his team 80 yards down the field and scored his third touchdown on a 2-yard run with 47 seconds left in the game to lift New Hampshire to a wild 20-17 win over Southeastern Louisiana in an FCS tournament quarterfinal game at Strawberry Stadium on Saturday night.
The win sends the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament semifinals for the first time.
"It's special," said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. "I'm so proud of the kids the way they fought and their resilience. Resilience is a word that's going to keep jumping up. These kids believe they could do stuff like that. That's what's great about this team."
UNH plays at two-time defending national champion North Dakota State on Friday night at 8 p.m. The Bison earned their spot in another semifinal with a 48-14 demolition of Coastal Carolina on Saturday.
North Dakota is 13-0 this year and has won its last 22 games.
The Wildcats, led by Goldrich and a superb effort on defense, won their sixth straight game and their ninth time in their last 10 tries. Goldrich completed 24 of his 35 passes for 276 yards. He ran 21 times for 99 yards and the three scores.
"Goldy played a tremendous game," said senior running back Chris Setian. "Just his presence in the pocket, his scrambling, making things happen. It was an unbelievable effort by him."
UNH, which started the season 1-3, improved to 10-4. The Lions had their 10-game win streak snapped and finished the season at 11-3.
The Lions took the lead at 17-14 on a 5-yard Bryant Bennett touchdown pass to Marquis Fruge with 5:17 left in the fourth quarter. Bennett escaped all sorts of trouble on the play before he found Fruge in the back of the end zone.
No problem. Goldrich and the offense responded.
"We've been in that position before," Setian said. "Villanova was a perfect example and we had even less time."
The Wildcats took 14 plays to cover the 80 yards.
They were faced with a 2nd and 18 from the SE Louisiana 32 with 1:55 to go and Goldrich ran for 9 yards and then 8 yards and change. On 4th and inches the quarterback kept for 5 yards.
He hit Jimmy Giansante for 7 yards and then Goldrich ran it in from the 2 and UNH had the lead back.
The Lions blocked Mike MacArthur's extra point attempt – they had already blocked two field goals – to stay within a field goal.
Bennett drove them back the other way and they got as far as the UNH 43. But that was it.
UNH led 14-10 and had a golden chance to extend the lead with on a 2nd and goal from the Southeastern 3-yard line with 10 minutes. But Maurice Sutton intercepted a fade pass intended for R.J. Harris in the left corner of the end zone.
Southeastern went back the other way for its score.
The Lions scored on their opening possession of the game.
The UNH defense took over from there.
The Lions had 12 plays in the initial drive and covered 81 yards. They managed a total of 70 yards in their other 29 offensive plays in the half.
Goldrich and the Wildcats answered the opening score with their own drive and his 32-yard TD run. UNH scored again on a possession that extended early into the second period. Goldrich scored this one, too, on a 1-yard run.
The Wildcats collected 479 yards of offense in the game and held Southeastern to 344.
UNH had 203 rushing yards and held the Lions to 75.
They bottled up Bennett, a 1,000-yard rusher during the season, for most of the game.
The longest rushing play for the Lions covered12 yards and their longest pass went for 30.
"It's just one of those games you never quit on and it comes down to the last minute," said Seamus O'Neill, the senior left tackle and captain out of Manchester Central. "It's a little nerve-wracking, but we got the win and we're going to North Dakota."
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UNH was originally scheduled to land by charter at Pease at 3:30 a.m. The flight was delayed by the snowstorm, though and the team spent the night at a hotel near the New Orleans Airport and was due to leave Louisiana in the morning. . . . Harris had 11 catches for 110 yards and Justin Mello 5 for 84. Steriti rushed 14 times for 75 yards. . . . Defensive back Manny Asam and linebacker Akil Anderson each had 10 tackles to lead the Wildcats.