DURHAM, N.H. – Junior wide receiver R.J. Harris (Odenton, Md.) returned from a three-game injury absence to register a career-high three touchdowns to power the 25th-ranked University of New Hampshire football team to Saturday afternoon's 33-17 CAA victory over No. 22 James Madison before a crowd of 6,084 at Cowell Stadium.
UNH, which earned its fourth win in five games, improved to 5-4 on the season and 4-2 in the CAA. JMU, which dropped its third straight matchup against the Wildcats, dropped to 6-4, 3-3.
Harris racked up 10 catches for 183 receiving yards, which marked his ninth career 100-yard receiving game and first since Oct. 27, 2012, at Rhode Island. The WR climbed to No. 6 in all-time receptions (170) and No. 8 in all-time receiving yards (2,219) at UNH. Justin Mello (Dartmouth, Mass.) set personal bests with 10 catches for 123 yards; it was the senior receiver's fourth 100-yard receiving game of the season and fifth of his career.
Harris and Mello became the first UNH duo to exceed 100 receiving yards in the same game since Harris and Joey Orlando accomplished the feat at Holy Cross on Aug. 30, 2012.
Andy Vailas (Bedford, N.H.), who started at quarterback for the first time since Oct. 5 at Towson, completed 28 passes in 49 attempts for 397 yards – all career highs. The junior signal caller threw for two TDs and was picked off once after being named the starter just prior to game time.
The UNH defense, which pitched a first-half shutout, was led by linebacker Shane McNeely (Whitehall, Pa.), who posted a team-leading nine tackles (six solo), including a sack. Fellow MLB DeVaughn Chollette (Scranton, Pa.) forced a fumble and collected seven stops, while Casey DeAndrade (East Bridgewater, Mass./six tackles) and Ryan Farrell (Westwood, Mass.) each notched an interception.
The 'Cats broke in front 7-0 with 12:50 to go in the first quarter when Vailas connected with Harris for an 18-yard touchdown pass to conclude an eight-play, 75-yard drive.
The advantage ballooned to 14-0 with 3:58 remaining in the second quarter when Harris was on the receiving end of a 52-yard halfback option pass from Nico Steriti (Toms River, N.J.). It was the first career pass for Steriti, who also paced New Hampshire's rushing effort with 14 carries for 68 yards.
The Dukes got on the board with 11:33 left in the third, courtesy of a 69-yard halfback option pass from Dae'Quan Scott (15 rushes-63 yards) to Quintin Hunter that trimmed UNH's lead to 14-7.
Mike MacArthur (North Hampton, N.H.) kicked a 29-yard field goal with 6:24 to go in the third to increase the lead to 17-7. Cameron Starke responded with a 25-yard field goal at 2:18 of the third to cut the JMU deficit to 17-10.
MacArthur's second field goal, a 35-yarder that matched his season long, allowed New Hampshire to reclaim a 10-point lead, 20-10, with 14:18 left in the fourth.
Hunter, who finished with seven receptions for 139 yards, notched his second TD catch of the day on a three-yard pass from Michael Birdsong (24-for-43, 214 yards, TD, 2 INT) that sliced UNH's lead to 20-17 with 12:22 to play.
Vailas and Harris hooked up for their second touchdown combination on a seven-yard pass with 9:19 to go to push the lead to 26-17.
Chris Setian (East Longmeadow, Mass./nine rushes-24 yards, TD) capped the scoring with a three-yard rush that closed out an eight-play, 79-yard drive with 1:56 left.
UNH will play its final road game of the regular season at Albany on Saturday, Nov. 16, at 3:30 p.m. The Wildcats return to Cowell Stadium for Senior Day against No. 8 Maine on Saturday, Nov. 23, at 12 p.m. For tickets, visit www.unhwildcats.com or call (603) 862-4000, extension 5.