STATESBORO, GA.-The No. 5 ranked University of New Hampshire football team defeated No. 4 ranked Georgia Southern, 27-23 on Saturday night at Allen E. Paulson Stadium in the opening round of the NCAA Div. I-AA playoffs.
The win against Georgia Southern marked the 'Cats first ever victory in the I-AA playoffs in their third attempt.
UNH's defense came up big with a huge stand with 10:27 left in the game on a fourth and one play and the 'Cats came away with the ball on a turnover on downs by Georgia Southern. The UNH defense made another big stop with 1:08 remaining on a four down play to seal the victory for the Wildcats.
Senior running back R.J. Harvey (Albany, N.Y.) gave the Wildcats the lead at 27-21 with 13:15 left in the game with a season long 52-yard run. UNH's offense attack went 65 yards in four plays in one minute and 30 seconds to give UNH their first lead of the night.
Sophomore wide receiver Aaron Brown (Central Square, N.Y.) cut the Georgia Southern lead to two points, 21-19 on a 24-yard scoring strike from redshirt freshman Ricky Santos (Bellingham, Mass.) with 1:38 left in the third quarter. UNH failed on the two-point conversion on a Santos incomplete pass.
Junior running back John McCoy (Groton, Conn.) tied a career-high with two rushing touchdowns. McCoy scored on a one yard run to open the scoring for UNH with 7:38 left in the opening period to make the score 14-6, after the Corey Graham (Buffalo, N.Y.) 99-yard interception return. McCoy ended the game with 64 yards on 13 carries.
Graham was the story of the game in the first half for the Wildcats with 158 return yards. He returned a kickoff for 99 yards with eight minutes left in the first quarter, which was one yard short of a school record. Graham also had return of 44 yards, which led to the second McCoy score.
Santos passed for 204 yards (22 of 30 completions) and one touchdown. Harvey led the Wildcats with 72 yards rushing, while senior wide receiver Shaun Diner (Montreal, Quebec) caught six passes for 55 yards.
Sophomore wide receiver David Ball (Orange, Vt.) left the game in the beginning of the second quarter with a sprained right ankle, Ball had two catches for 16 yards before leaving the game. Ball did not return to the game.
UNH, which made its first NCAA Appearance since 1994, went into the locker room at halftime down, 21-13.
Senior defensive back Aaron Thomas (Lansdale, Pa.) recovered one of six Eagle fumbles with 1:34 left to close out first half.
Georgia Southern was led by quarterback Chaz Williams, who had two rushing scores and 104 yards on the ground in the first half. Williams finished the game with 159 yards rushing . Eagle running back Jermaine Austin gained 108 yards in the first half of the game with one touchdown on the ground. Austin finished the game with 123 yards.
The UNH football team (10-2 overall, 6-2 Atlantic 10) returns to action on Saturday, December 4th in the second round of the NCAA playoffs against Montana with the site to be determined.