MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – University of Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more to lead the Golden Gophers to a 44-7 victory against the University of New Hampshire in Saturday afternoon's football matchup at TCF Bank Stadium.
UNH -- now 5-5 against Football Bowl Subdivision teams, including 1-1 against the Big Ten – fell to 1-1 overall in the 2012 season. Minnesota improved to 2-0.
UNH's offense was led by sophomore quarterback Andy Vailas (Bedford, N.H.), who was forced into action when redshirt freshman Sean Goldrich (West Haven, Conn.) was injured on the Wildcats' second offensive play. Vailas was 18-for-34 for 158 yards, all of which marked career highs; he also threw one interception and was sacked four times.
R.J. Harris (Odenton, Md.) was his top target with six catches for 61 yards. Jimmy Giansante (Jefferson Hills, Pa.) followed with three receptions for 55 yards. Nico Steriti (Toms River, N.J.) was the top ground gainer with six carries for 34 yards and Chris Setian (East Longmeadow, Mass.) accounted for UNH's touchdown with a five-yard scamper late in the first quarter.
The Wildcats' defensive effort was spearheaded by Matt Evans (Hanover, Mass.) and Alan Buzbee (Chester, N.J.) with nine tackles apiece; Evans finished with a personal-best two sacks. Cody Muller (Telford, Pa.) recorded a career-high seven tackles, including a sack, and also forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate Chris Beranger (Winthrop, Mass.).
Minnesota outgained UNH, 412-231, with a 240-68 edge in rushing yards. Gray finished 6 of 8 for 100 passing yards and had 17 carries for 109 yards. Donnell Kirkwood also had 17 rushes for a total of 70 yards and a touchdown.
The Golden Gophers quickly built a 9-0 lead in the first quarter with a safety and touchdown spanning 18 seconds. With UNH facing 4th-and-6 at its 15-yard line, the long snap went between the hands of punter Mike MacArthur (North Hampton, N.H.), who retreated to the end zone and threw the ball out of bounds for a Minnesota safety and a 2-0 lead at 10:12.
Troy Stoudermire returned the ensuing kickoff 48 yards and a personal foul against the 'Cats gave the home team 1st-and-10 at the UNH 27. Gray lofted a pass down the left sideline for a 27-yard touchdown completion to Isaac Fruechte, and Jordan Wettstein's PAT extended the Gophers' lead to 9-0 at 9:54.
On the next UNH possession, a 27-yard run by Steriti down the left sideline and a personal foul assessed against the defense advanced the ball to the UM 38. The Wildcats' offense remained on the field for 4th-and-4, but Vailas' pass to Justin Mello (Dartmouth, Mass.) fell incomplete.
New Hampshire's defense forced the Gophers to three-and-outs their next two possessions. Then the Wildcats responded with an eight-play, 76-yard drive to pull within 9-7 with 34 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Vailas' 25-yard completion to Giansante and a 16-yard run by Setian quickly advanced the ball to the UM 38. Vailas then connected with Harris for 18 yards and Giansante for eight more to set up 2nd-and-2 from the 13. Steriti carried the ball eight yards to create 1st and goal, and Vailas pitched the ball right to Setian, who won the race to the pylon and MacAruthur's kick was successful.
Minnesota reestablished a nine-point lead, 16-7, just 11 seconds later when Gray opted to keep the ball, broke through a hole in the middle of the line and raced to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown.
UNH's offense responded with a methodical drive of 11 plays and 42 yards, but the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs when Vailas' 4th and 4 pass intended for Harris was broken up by the Gophers' secondary at 10:54 of the second quarter.
Gray orchestrated an eight-play, 67-yard TD drive that consumed 4:04 off the clock and extended the advantage to 23-7 at 6:50. On 3rd & 2 at the UNH 35, Gray found John Rabe down the right seam for a 33-yard gain. One play later, Rabe came out of the backfield in the wishbone formation to catch the ball in the right flat for a two-yard score from Gray.
Minnesota's defense forced a turnover on a strip-sack of Vailas and Gray scored three plays later on an 11-yard keeper up the middle to give the Gophers a 30-7 lead at 4:56.
UNH went 3-and-out on its possession, then an Evans sack forced UM's Wettstein to attempt a 52-yard field goal that was wide right.
The Wildcats received the opening kickoff of the second half and consecutive completions from Vailas to Harris (21 yards) and Mello (seven yards) set up 2nd & 3 at the UM 42. Jimmy Owens (West Deptford, N.J.) ran for two yards on the next play, but then he was stopped for no gain and the 'Cats punted.
Minnesota consumed more than eight minutes off the clock on a 16-play, 85-yard drive that culminated in a two-yard TD run by Kirkwood that gave the home team a 37-7 lead.
Muller's forced fumble gave the 'Cats 1st & 10 at the UM 44. Consecutive completions from Vailas to Joey Orlando (Bethlehem, Pa.; seven yards) and Mello (five yards) advanced the ball to the 32. Owens carried the ball for a five-yard gain, then Vailas found Orlando for a 10-yard gain. Four plays later, UNH turned the ball over on downs for the fourth time in the game when Vailas' pass to Orlando sailed wide right through the end zone.
Minnesota closed the scoring at 6:40 of the fourth quarter on a 12-play, 86-yard drive capped by a 19-yard pass from Max Shortell to A.J. Barker.
New Hampshire returns to action Sept. 15 for its home opener against Central Connecticut State University. Opening kickoff at Cowell Stadium is 12 p.m. Tickets are available by calling (603) 862-4000 or online at www.unhwildcats.com