College Football: A final 'W' for UNH
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Junior running back Dontra Peters collected the hardware as the winner of the Bill Knight Trophy awarded to the most outstanding player in the New Hampshire-Massachusetts game.
That was nice, but not the reason he and the Wildcats came to the Gillette Stadium on Saturday.
“Personally, it’s not about the trophy,” Peters said. “Like coach said, this was huge for us. It might be the last time we play them and we got all hyped up about it all week. I’m just satisfied putting the last ‘W’ on the board.”
That was the bottom line to UNH’s 27-21 win over Massachusetts in front of 24,022 in what for now at least is the last Colonial Clash: It was a most-satisfying sendoff for the Wildcats.
Massachusetts is off to the Mid-American Conference and the Football Bowl Subdivision and UNH finished off the series that started in 1897 and has gone non-stop since 1952 with two straight wins, both at Gillette Stadium. The teams may play again at some point, but nothing is set up at the moment.
“Credit goes to these kids,” said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. “They wanted to get this one. It’s the last dance they have with these guys and they went out and got it.”
The Wildcats did it by starting fast, establishing an effective running game and keeping the UMass offense under control for the most part.
UNH, ranked No. 13 last week, improved to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association and bounced back from a 24-10 loss at William & Mary last week.
The Wildcats play Rhode Island, a 38-34 upset winner over No. 16 Delaware on Saturday, at home next Saturday. They have their next two and three of their last four games at Cowell Stadium.
UMass, which is ineligible for a CAA title or the playoffs as it transitions up, fell to 4-3 and is 2-2 against CAA opponents.
Peters returned the opening kickoff 44 yards to the Massachusetts 42 and he and the Wildcats were on their way.
He went 12 yards in UNH’s first play from scrimmage and soon after scored on a 5-yard run. Senior quarterback Kevin Decker scrambled and hit defensive end-turned tight end Brian McNally with a conversion pass for an 8-0 lead before the game was three minutes old.
“They got the big return and punched it in and we were playing from behind all the way,” said UMass coach Kevin Morris.
Peters came back with a strong all-around game after losing a couple of fumbles against William & Mary. He had 208 all-purpose yards, led by three kickoff returns for 98 yards and 13 carries for 48 yards and two scores.
Redshirt freshman Nico Steriti had eight carries for 56 yards and rushed 195 yards total.
“It was awesome,” said guard Chris Zarkoskie, who helped open holes for Peters and Co. “It’s great to be able to run it against a great defense like UMass. They threw a lot of different looks at us and what we were able to do today is a big deal for us.”
Junior linebacker Matt Evans had 13 tackles and forced a couple of fumbles to help hold the UMass offense in check. The Minutemen had 399 yards of offense to UNH’s 335, but worked hard for what they got.
UMass went 80 yards for a score to cut the UNH lead to 24-18 early in the fourth period, but needed 19 plays and nine minutes to do it.
Mike MacArthur kicked his second field goal of the game, a 35-yarder, to put his team up 27-18 with 5:09 to play.
Massachusetts got one last field goal with 1:45 to go, but would get no closer.
The Wildcats opened up an 11-0 lead early by following a Manny Asam interception with a 47-yard MacArthur field goal.
On the next UMass play, Evans forced a Jonathan Hernandez fumble and McNally recovered on the Minuteman 26.
UNH failed to take advantage of the turnover, though, when MacArthur was wide with a 37-yard field goal attempt.
UMass got a touchdown back on a Julian Talley 15-yard run with 7:26 left in the second period. A conversion pass failed and it was 11-6 .
Peters answered with his second score on a 1-yard run with 5:18 left in the half and MacArthur’s kick made it 18-6.
UMass went back the other way and Hernandez scored on a 4-yard run with 19 seconds left. Brendon Levengood missed the point-after kick.
That left the Wildcats up 18-12 at the break. They pushed the lead to 24-12 with Decker’s 23-yard scoring pass with 4:42 left in the third quarter and held on from there.
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WILDCAT NOTES: There was a bit of a family affair in the pregame ceremonies: Manchester’s Steve Schubert and Billy Pappas were among the honorary captains for the game. Schubert, Class of 1972, represented UMass and Pappas, Schubert’s uncle, represented UNH. Pappas was a co-captain and All-American quarterback for the 1954 champion Wildcats. . . . Decker completed 11 of his 15 passes for 137 yards and the score. The Wildcats did not have a turnover.