CEDAR FALLS, IOWA — Eric Sanders crafted a five-play 71-yard drive with just 1:16 left on the clock to dash the University of New Hampshire football team’s upset bid as the top-seeded University of Northern Iowa escaped with a 38-35 win on Saturday night at the UNI Dome. UNI remains perfect at 12-0 and advances to play Delaware in the FCS quarterfinals, while the Wildcats close of the 2007 season 7-5 overall.
Senior quarterback Ricky Santos (Bellingham, Mass.) engineered a 10-play 75-yard drive with just 3:28 remaining to give the Wildcats a 35-31 lead with just 1:16 remaining. Santos connected with Chad Kackert (Simi Valley, Calif.) on a 15-yard scoring strike to cap off the drive.
Santos closed out his storied career going 26-for-35 for 251 yards passing, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
During the game-winning drive Sanders connected on four-of-five pass attempts, capped off by a 24-yard touchdown strike to Montari Leonard. Overall, Sanders was 27-for-36 for 314 yards and a touchdown.
Northern Iowa struck first at 9:52 of the first quarter on a 34 yd rushing TD by Corey Lewis and the Panthers jumped out to a 7-0 advantage after
UNH’s initial drive had stalled. UNH followed the drive with a long drive of its own (16 plays, 83 yds) capped by a 1 yard dive by senior RB Chris Ward. The PAT by sophomore Tom Manning (Rome, N.Y.) was good and the game was knotted at 7 with 3:54 remaining in the opening stanza. UNH held the ball for an impressive span of 5:38 to get into the end zone.
Billy Hallgren went in to attempt a 48 yd field goal but it was wide left and the score remained tied at 13:44 of the second quarter and UNH took the ball at the UNI 30 yard line.
UNI’s Johnny Gray scored on a 15 yard run at 8:01 of the second quarter on an end around and after the PAT the Panthers led 14-7. The TD run capped an 8-play 97 yard drive that ate up 3:51 off the clock.
On the ensuing kickoff Kackert flew down the field 94 yards for a thrilling Wildcat TD that immediately tied the score at 14 following the PAT by Manning. It was the longest return of the season, as Mike Boyle also had a 91-yarder earlier in the season for a TD.
The UNH defense followed the kickoff return with a three-and-out effort that gave UNH the football on its own 39 yard line. The Wildcats then proceeded to move quickly down the field with a combination of a long pass to Boyle and a nice run by Kackert to get close to the end zone, but Manning missed a 33 yard field goal and the score remained tied 14-14.
UNI’s Hallgren came on again for a 52 yard field goal with four seconds to play before the half and missed his second of the night and the teams headed to the locker rooms tied at 14.after Santos took a knee.
UNI opened the second half with a scoring drive that was capped off with a 36 yard run by Lewis at 11:14 of the third quarter and the home team regained the lead following the PAT, 21-14.
A blocked punt gave UNI the football on the UNH 36 yard line with 10:05 left in the third quarter. The defense held inside the red zone but a penalty called on John Clements gave UNI the ball on the 4 yard line, but the defense held for a fourth down again. Hallgren went out to kick the 22 yard field goal and the Panthers opened up a 24-14 advantage with 5:03 to play in the third quarter.
UNH kept a long drive alove on fourth and 13 to get the football to the UNI 15 on a long pass from Santos to Boyle. Santos then completed a 17 yard TD pass to TE Scott Sicko with 1:35 to play in the third quarter and UNH trailed by just three points, 24-21. The TD capped an eight play 61 yard drive.
UNI kept the pressure on in the fourth quarter, putting together another long, time-consuming drive that was capped by a 3 yard TD run by Lewis with 13:25 to play in the contest. After the PAT, the Panthers led 31-21 and killed another 3:10 off the clock on the 7-play, 74 yard drive.
The Wildcats would not give up and the offense drove quckly down the field and Santos completed a 16 yard TD pass to Sicko, the second of the night for the duo, and the UNI lead was cut to three once again, 31-28, with just 10:44 to play in the contest.
UNI was on the move with a long drive following the Wildcat score, until Leonard fumbled on the 20 yard line giving the ball back to UNH. The fumble was forced by senior Matt Perdoni (Sherborn, Mass.) and recovered by Steve Young (Rochester, N.H.).
The Wildcats gained nine yards over the first three downs and were stopped on fourth down giving the ball back to UNI at their own 29 yard line. The Panthers could do little with their possession gaining just four yards setting up a fourth and six from the 25, which was an incomplete pass giving UNH the ball back with 3:28 remaining that setup Santos’s go ahead drive.
Defensively, Jeff Pammer (Northhampton, Pa.) finished with 11 tackles, two for a loss, and a sack. John Clements (Hammonton, N.J.) had a team-high 16 tackles, while Husain Karim (Burlington, Vt.) added a dozen tackles.