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College Football: UNH outlasts Tribe, boosts postseason bid chances
DURHAM --- Linebacker Matt Evans got his record and coach Sean McDonnell got his win over William & Mary.
Most importantly, by responding to a late score with one of its own, the University of New Hampshire collected its eighth win of the season by toppling the Tribe, 28-25, in front of 5,521 fans at Cowell Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The No. 11-ranked Wildcats won their sixth straight game for the first time since late in the 2005 season and improved to 8-2 overall and 6-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association. William & Mary fell to 2-7 and 1-5.
It's not official, but win No. 8 all but assures UNH of a spot in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision tournament for a best-in-the-nation ninth straight season.
The Wildcats want more.
“There are definitely many more games for us if we continue to play well,” said senior captain and offensive lineman Chris Zarkoskie. “Eight wins is great, but nine wins is even better, setting us up for the playoffs.”
UNH gets next weekend off and then closes out the regular season with a home game against Towson on Nov. 17.
Victory No. 8, the first over William & Mary since 1998, was rewarding but did not come easily.
“It was a good feeling,” said Evans, who became UNH's all-time leading tackler with a third period stop. “We want to win every single game this season and we're looking at Towson next. But it's definitely a good feeling to get that monkey off our backs.”
The Tribe had rallied from 18-7 down at the half and then 21-18 down after three periods to grab a 25-21 lead on a 1-yard run by quarterback Michael Graham with exactly six minutes left in the game.
“I don't think anyone one the team was worried, to be honest with you,” said McDonnell, who had been 0-9 against William & Mary. “But they knew what we had to do.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Goldrich quickly marched UNH 70 yards down the field. A nice throw and catch to senior Joey Orlando covered 32 yards to the William & Mary 19.
On the next play, sophomore Nico Steriti hit a hole opened on the right side of the line by lineman Mickey DiLima and Rob Bowman, broke a couple of tackles and was on his way to his second touchdown of the day.
“You've got to give it to the offensive line,” Goldrich said. “They played great all day.”
UNH had its 28-25 lead on a conversion kick by Mike MacArthur, the junior out of No. Hampton and Winnacunnet Regional in Hampton.
But there was still 4:14 left to play.
The Tribe earned a couple of first downs and there were nearly two minutes left when Graham, who had replaced the injured Brent Caprio, went back to pass on 2nd and 5 from the UNH 42.
He threw to the left side and UNH redshirt freshman Keith Parkinson went up and intercepted the pass.
The Tribe defense forced a punt to give the offense the ball again. But UNH held and a desperation pass at the end was short and incomplete.
The Wildcats, down 7-0 after the first period on a Caprio-to-Tre McBride 30-yard TD pass, seemed to take control in the second.
MacArthur got it started with a 23-yard field goal 1:15 into the quarter.
Steriti added an 18-yard touchdown run. Andy Vailas passed to Harold Spears for a two-point conversion and UNH led 11-7 with 5:20 left in the half.
The UNH defense held again.
The Wildcats efficiently went down the field covering 70 yards in just under a minute to a Goldrich 2-yard run for another score. MacArthur's kick left it 18-7 at the break.
The Tribe needed 11 minutes in the third period to wipe that lead out.
John Carpenter kicked a 23-yard field goal with 9:20 left in the period to cut to it to 18-10.
William & Mary got the ball back and Graham connected with McBride for his second score, this one from 19 yards out. The two teamed up on a conversion pass, too, and it was all tied up at 18-18 with 4:06 left in the period.
MacArthur put UNH back on top, 21-18, with a 24-yard field goal with 11:22 left in the fourth quarter.
There were a couple of more lead changes to go.
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NOTES: Evans had 10 tackles and is up to 437 in his career. He passed the all-time best of 434 of Steve Doig (1978-81) who was in attendance. . . . Steriti rushed 19 times for 106 yards and the two scores. . . . Goldrich completed 21 of his 30 passes and also ran 7 times for 37 yards and the score. . . . Vailas, the sophomore from Bedford and Bishop Guertin of Nashua, ran 11 times for 53 yards. . . . Senior Jared Smith and junior Jay Colbert had quarterback sacks for the Wildcats.