No. 1 UNH football edged by No. 7 Northern Iowa, 24-21, in quarters

Santos compiles 458 total yards of offense in Wildcats' loss

Ricky Santos

DURHAM, N.H.-- Ricky Santos (Bellingham, Mass.), one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award, amassed 458 yards of total offense with 345 passing yards, 106 rushing yards and seven receiving yards, but the No. 1 ranked and top-seeded University of New Hampshire football team was defeated 24-21 by No. 7 University of Northern Iowa in Saturday afternoon's NCAA I-AA quarterfinal game at Cowell Stadium.

UNH, which entered the game with a seven-game winning streak, ends the 2005 season at 11-2 to mark the highest single-season win total in the program's history. The Wildcats were also ousted from the 2004 I-AA playoffs in the quarterfinals. Northern Iowa improved to 10-3 and will play the winner of the Cal Poly vs. Texas State quarterfinal game next weekend.

Trailing 24-21, New Hampshire took possession at the UNH 30 with nine seconds remaining in the game and ended the game with a play that spanned almost the entire field. Santos completed a pass to Jonathan Williams (Rochester, N.Y.) near the left sideline at the 37-yard line. He immediately flipped the ball back to Keith LeVan (Waltham, Mass.), who in turn handed back to Santos. From the 36, Santos threw a lateral across the field to John McCoy (Groton, Conn.) and he handed off to David Ball (Orange, Vt.). Ball eluded a couple of would-be tacklers to advance down the right sideline, but Curtis Cooper made the tackle at the UNI 20 to end the game.

"Turnovers and fourth down conversions were the key to the game today," UNH head coach Sean McDonnell. "Northern Iowa did a great job of stripping the ball and being there to get the ball. You can't lose the turnover battle. Third and fourth down conversions hurt us, especially the fourth downs."

McCoy finished with a career-high 157 rushing yards on 26 carries as UNH compiled 286 rushing yards for a total of 631 yards of offense. Ball was the game's leading receiver with 10 catches for 188 yards and three touchdowns. Santos completed 27 of 42 pass attempts with three touchdowns, all to Ball.

UNI built a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter behind the ground game of David Horne (28 rushes-144 yards). He gave the Panthers a 7-0 first-quarter lead with a 40-yard run at 10:14, then extended the visitor's advantage to 14-0 on a 32-yard TD reception at 9:36 of the second quarter. Following a blocked punt by the Panthers' Chris Parsons that resulted in a 5-yard net and gave UNI possession at the UNH 40, Terrance Freeney's 1-yard rush put UNI ahead 21-0 at 7:03.

The Wildcats rallied within 21-14 with a pair of touchdowns in a span of 69 seconds late in the second quarter. A 20-yard strike from Santos to Ball trimmed the deficit to 21-7 at 1:49. The Panthers immediately turned the ball back to the Wildcats on an interception by Etienne Boulay (Montreal, Quebec), and the 'Cats capitalized on the turnover with an 8-play, 73-yard drive that culminated in an 8-yard pass play with 40 seconds remaining in the half.

On the first two Wildcat possessions of the third quarter, UNH advanced the ball inside the UNI 20 yard line but lost the ball on a pair of fumbles. New Hampshire pulled even, 21-21, at 1:39 of the third quarter on a 29-yard pass play from Santos to Ball.

The Panthers marched 57 yards on 11 plays -- nine of which were runs -- in a drive that lasted 4:45 and ended at 11:50 with a 22-yard field goal by Brian Wingert that put the visitors back in the lead, 24-21, and proved to be the game-winning points.

The ensuing Wildcat possession stalled at the UNI 27. The 'Cats also turned the ball over on downs the next possession and then fumbled on a fourth-down play before ending the game with the 50-yard pass play.

UNH, which punted just once, went 1-for-7 overall on fourth down conversions and had a 43-yard field goal attempt blocked by Michael Matthew on its first possession of the game. The Wildcats, who entered the week leading the nation in turnover ratio, committed three turnovers to the Panthers' one.

"We converted on our fourth down and shut them down on several occasions," UNI head coach Mark Farley said. "The difference in the second half was turnovers. They were moving until they got into the red zone and we got some key turnovers."

Northern Iowa quarterback Eric Sanders completed 15 of 25 pass attempts for 185 yards and one touchdown. Justin Surrency was the leading receiver with 45 yards on four receptions.

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