DURHAM, N.H. - Senior tight end Sean Cullen (Naples, Fla.) recorded a career-high 104 receiving yards and four different players rushed for touchdowns to guide the 10th-ranked University of New Hampshire football team to Saturday's 31-24 defeat of the University of Rhode Island before a Homecoming crowd of 10,554 at Cowell Stadium.
The win propelled the Wildcats to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association, while the Rams slipped to 2-6, 1-4 in league play.
Dontra Peters (Annapolis, Md.) led the ground attack with 13 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown. The junior tacked on 68 kick-return yards and a 19-yard reception for a game-leading 179 all-purpose yards.
Kevin Decker (Armonk, N.Y.) rushed for a career-best 78 yards and a touchdown while completing 14 of 21 passes for 257 yards. Chris Setian (East Longmeadow, Mass.) and R.J. Harris (Odenton, Md.) added rushing TDs for the Wildcats in their sixth straight home win against the Rams.
Chris Beranger (Winthrop, Mass.) led UNH in tackles for the fifth time in the last six games after accumulating 13 stops, nine of them solo, his first career sack and a forced fumble. Matt Evans (Hanover, Mass.) chipped in with nine tackles and an interception.
Rhody appeared ready to take the lead on its initial possession when it advanced to the UNH 3-yard line, but quarterback Bob Bentsen coughed up the 2nd-and-goal snap and Alan Buzbee (Chester, N.J.) recovered the fumble for New Hampshire.
The 'Cats then proceeded to go on a 13-play, 97-yard drive that lasted more than five minutes before Setian (10 rushes-27 yards, TD) plunged in for a one-yard TD. The PAT from Mike MacArthur (North Hampton, N.H.) put UNH in front, 7-0, with 5:39 left in the first period. Decker went 5 of 5 for 70 yards on the drive, completing passes to five different receivers, capped by a 20-yard hookup with Cullen that placed the ball at the URI 1.
UNH increased the lead to 14-0 with 8:45 remaining in the opening half courtesy of the first career rushing score for Harris (one rush-23 yards, TD), who took an end-around pitch from Decker 23 yards. A Rams' turnover in Wildcats' territory again jumpstarted the scoring drive, as Jimmy Vailas (Bedford, N.H.) tipped Bentsen's pass at the UNH 30 and Evans caught the deflection for his second INT of the year.
Bentsen recovered to get Rhode Island on the board with 23 seconds left in the half on a 46-yard pass to Brandon Johnson-Ferrell. The two-point conversion try failed, so the home team took a 14-6 lead to the halftime break.
Rhody attempted an onside kick to begin the second half, but the ploy backfired when the kick went out of bounds, giving New Hampshire possession at the URI 41. Peters then went to work, carrying once for 37 yards before scoring from four yards out for his fourth rushing score of the season. The PAT bumped the lead to 21-6 only 26 seconds into the third quarter.
Rhode Island then went on an 18-point run over a span of 4:18 in the third quarter to seize the lead, 24-21. Backup quarterback Steve Probst reached pay dirt on an 11-yard carry at the 10:09 mark that trimmed the deficit to 21-13, and he called his own number again for a one-yard TD with 7:24 left in the third. Following a successful two-point pass from Bentsen to Anthony Baskerville, the game was deadlocked at 21. The Rams took their only advantage with 5:51 left in the quarter on a 43-yard field goal from Louis Feinstein.
New Hampshire snapped out of its collective funk to reclaim the lead for good, 28-24, on Decker's one-yard run, his team-leading seventh, with 3:58 remaining in the third.
After a wild third quarter that produced 32 combined points, the only tally of the fourth quarter was MacArthur's 28-yard field goal with 2:25 remaining.
New Hampshire forced a Rhode Island punt with 4:41 remaining in the contest, and the Wildcats never gave the football back, maintaining possession on a nine-play, 63-yard drive to run out the clock.
UNH will play host to ninth-ranked James Madison at Cowell Stadium next Saturday, Nov. 5, beginning at 12 p.m. For tickets, visit www.unhwildcats.com or call (603) 862-4000, extension 5.