LAKE CHARLES, La.
– The 10th-ranked University of New Hampshire football team
advanced to the NCAA Division I quarterfinals for the fifth time in
the last six seasons by defeating No. 8-ranked McNeese State
University, 49-13, Saturday afternoon in a first-round game at
UNH, the CAA North Division champions, scored the final 35 points of the game to improve to 10-2 overall and reach double digits in victories for the fourth time in the past six years. McNeese, which entered the postseason with a six-game winning streak, ends the year at 9-3.
Junior quarterback R.J. Toman (Mission Viejo, Calif.) kept the CAA’s highest-scoring offense (32.5 points per game in the regular season) rolling by completing 17 of 25 pass attempts for 240 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran eight times for 14 yards, including a one-yard touchdown run. Senior tight end Scott Sicko (Stillwater, N.Y.) caught five passes for 51 yards and had two TD receptions – both for 9 yards.
While UNH’s offense continued its prolific production, the Wildcats’ defense was stout against the Cowboys’ high-scoring attack, which featured six all-conference first team selections and averaged 37 points per game, by limiting them to 13 points – all in the first quarter. The UNH defense, which led the CAA in interceptions, recorded one interception as well as nine tackles for a loss, including three sacks.
And it was New Hampshire’s defensive unit that made the game-changing play near the end of the third quarter, when a 79-yard interception return for a touchdown by Terrence Klein (Westwood, N.J.) halted MSU’s drive and extended New Hampshire’s advantage to 35-13 with three seconds remaining in the 3rd.
The Wildcats put together a well-designed, well-executed drive on their first possession of the game that included three key passes to Sicko, including the 9-yard TD pass from Toman 11:23 of the first quarter to give the Wildcats the early 7-0 advantage after the PAT by Tom Manning (Rome, N.Y.). The drive included 10 plays and covered 74 yards in 3:37.
McNeese State responded with a 31-yard field goal by freshman kicker Josh Lewis with 8:04 left on the clock in the first quarter to cut the UNH lead to 7-3. The drive included eight plays and covered 61 yards.
UNH engineered yet another well-executed drive to take a 14-3 lead with 3:45 to play in the first quarter when Toman quickly dove into the end zone on a keeper to cap off an 11-play, 72-yard drive that took 4:21 off the clock.
However, McNeese moved the ball quickly down the field, but was once again forced to kick a 40-yard field by Lewis with 1:30 remaining in the first quarter and the UNH lead was cut to 14-6.
The Cowboys trimmed the UNH lead to 14-13 with 11:45 to go in the second quarter with an 11-yard TD run that capped off a 7-play, 77-yard drive that used 2:59 off the clock. The PAT by Lewis was good and the home team trailed by just one.
A beautiful 62-yard pass play from Toman to junior wide receiver Kevon Mason (Quincy, Mass.) set up an 11-yard touchdown run by senior running back Chad Kackert (Simi Valley, Calif.) that gave UNH a 21-13 advantage with 4:22 to go before the half.
McNeese had a chance to cut UNH’s lead with 1.2 seconds before halftime, but Lewis’ 41-yard field goal attempt missed the mark and the UNH led 21-13 at the intermission.
Toman had a tremendous first half for the Wildcats, completing 15 of 23 passes for 193 yards, throwing for one touchdown and running for another.
McNeese started the third quarter with the football, but the UNH defense forced a punt. A 35-yard run by Mickey Mangieri (Bedford, N.Y.) and a 24-yard run by Kackert put UNH on the 11 yard line. The quick-scoring drive was capped off with a leaping 9-yard touchdown reception in the back of the end zone by Sicko, his second of the day, to give UNH a 28-13 lead with 7:56 to play in the third quarter. The play capped an 8-play, 70-yard drive.
McNeese was threatening to score when a pass by Fourroux was tipped by junior safety Hugo Souza (Marshfield, Mass.) and then grabbed by Klein for the game-changing interception that gave UNH a 22-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter. It was Klein’s sixth interception of the season and his first returned for a TD.
The Wildcats iced the win with a pretty pass by Toman to senior wide receiver Travis Negron (San Diego, Calif.) for a 38-yard TD and after the PAT, UNH led by a 42-13 margin with 13:51 to play in the contest. The drive was quick, completed in three plays for 52 yards and lasting just 45 seconds.
UNH closed the scoring at 7:08 on a one-yard TD run by Dontra Peters (Annapolis, Md.). That play was the last of a 12-play, 62-yard drive that consumed 4:34 off the clock.
Kackert was the Wildcats’ leading ground gainer with 14 carries for 63 yards. Ryan Hinds (Toronto, Ontario) and Ryan McGuinness (Howell, N.J.) were the leading tacklers with nine and seven tackles, respectively.
With his 240 passing yards, Toman climbed to No. 4 on UNH’s list of career passing yards with 5,555. Sicko now has 156 career receptions, and that total ranks eighth on the program’s all-time leaderboad.
UNH advances to the quarterfinals and will travel to play No. 2-ranked Villanova University on Saturday, Dec. 5 in Villanova, Pa.; game time to be announced. UNH is the only team that defeated Villanova this season with a 28-24 victory in Durham, N.H. on Oct 10.