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November 09. 2013 7:13PM

College Football: Wildcats rebound to win, keep playoff hopes alive

DURHAM - Andy Vailas got word shortly before the game that he was starting and responded with a huge performance, senior wide receiver R.J. Harris made a triumphant return to the lineup and collected three touchdown passes and the offensive and defensive lines took control of things in the trenches.

It all added up to an impressive, decisive and crucial 33-17 University of New Hampshire football win over No. 22-ranked James Madison on Saturday in front of 6,084 in a chilly and breezy Cowell Stadium.

The Wildcats rebounded from last week's 17-0 loss at William & Mary, upped their record to 5-4 overall and 4-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association and kept their FCS playoff hopes going.

"Coach stressed all week that it's almost do or die," said Vailas, the junior out of Bedford and Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua.

"Obviously we're hurt, but we're not dead."

No, they are not.

There's no guarantee that any team with four losses will make the tournament, but the Wildcats will make a pretty good case for themselves if they can close out with wins in their last two games, at Albany next Saturday and home against Maine the week after that.

"I will tell you this, if we're sitting here in (two) weeks and we have four losses, we should be in the tournament," said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. "I don't know if that will happen, but I know we beat a real good JMU team and if that happens we'll have beaten a real good Maine team. But we don't have anything to worry about until we're done playing next week."

The Wildcats need to beat Albany to make Maine matter as far as the tournament goes.

Just like they needed to beat James Madison.

The Dukes dropped to 6-4 overall and 3-3 in the league.

Harris was back in the lineup after missing three-plus games with concussion symptoms. He played with a broken hand earlier in the season and had 26 catches overall for 263 yards and one TD grab through his first five games.

He caught 10 passes for 183 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday.

His two TD receptions in the first half gave the Wildcats a 14-0 lead at the break.

"Having R.J. back obviously spreads the field for us and makes a big difference," McDonnell said.

The first Harris touchdown went for 18 yards from Vailas and closed out UNH's opening drive of the game.

On the next, he was on the receiving end of a 52-yard halfback option bomb from junior running back Nico Steriti.

It was the first pass attempt of Steriti's career and came after he collected a long lateral pass from Vailas.

"We'll never hear the end of it," Valais said with laugh of Steriti's pass. "Nic made a heckuva pass and he sold it with a little run fake."

Vailas completed a career-high 28 passes on a career-high 49 attempts for a career-high 397 yards.

Both Vailas and sophomore quarterback Sean Goldrich are banged up and McDonnell and offensive coordinator Ryan Carty thought during the week that Goldrich would probably get the start.

But his ribs were still hurting in pregame warmups and Vailas, who's been dealing with a knee injury, got the call.

"I will tell you this, if we're sitting here in (two) weeks and we have four losses, we should be in the tournament," said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. "I don't know if that will happen, but I know we beat a real good JMU team and if that happens we'll have beaten a real good Maine team. But we don't have anything to worry about until we're done playing next week."

The Wildcats need to beat Albany to make Maine matter as far as the tournament goes.

Just like they needed to beat James Madison.

The Dukes dropped to 6-4 overall and 3-3 in the league.

Harris was back in the lineup after missing three-plus games with concussion symptoms. He played with a broken hand earlier in the season and had 26 catches overall for 263 yards and one TD grab through his first five games.

He caught 10 passes for 183 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday.

His two TD receptions in the first half gave the Wildcats a 14-0 lead at the break.

"Having R.J. back obviously spreads the field for us and makes a big difference," McDonnell said.

The first Harris touchdown went for 18 yards from Vailas and closed out UNH's opening drive of the game.

On the next, he was on the receiving end of a 52-yard halfback option bomb from junior running back Nico Steriti.

It was the first pass attempt of Steriti's career and came after he collected a long lateral pass from Vailas.

"We'll never hear the end of it," Valais said with laugh of Steriti's pass. "Nic made a heckuva pass and he sold it with a little run fake."

Vailas completed a career-high 28 passes on a career-high 49 attempts for a career-high 397 yards.

Both Vailas and sophomore quarterback Sean Goldrich are banged up and McDonnell and offensive coordinator Ryan Carty thought during the week that Goldrich would probably get the start.

But his ribs were still hurting in pregame warmups and Vailas, who's been dealing with a knee injury, got the call.

The three Harris touchdowns were a career-high and senior Justin Mello had career bests in catches (10) and yards (123).

James Madison gave UNH a little of its own medicine early in the third period.

The Dukes got the ball to open the second half and the Wildcat defense quickly forced a punt.

But James Madison held on defense as well and got the ball back.

On JMU's first play, running back De'Quan Scott connected with wide open wide receiver Quintin Hunter for a 69-yard TD to make it 14-7.

UNH's Mike MacArthur, the senior from North Hampton, kicked a 29-yard field goal and Cameron Starke answered with a 25-yarder and it was 17-10 with a quarter to go.

MacArthur pushed it to 20-10 with a 35-yard field goal in the first minute of the final quarter.

JMU quarterback Michael Birdsong completed a 3-yard pass to Hunter to cut it to 20-17.

Vailas and Harris responded with a 7-yard TD pass and the Wildcats tacked on a 3-yard Chris Setian run late to close out the scoring.

The Wildcats put up 535 yards of offense against a touted defense that allowed 322 yards and 20.8 points coming in.

The UNH defense came up with a couple of interceptions and held JMU under its 29.7 points per game average.

McDonnell praised the play of both his offensive and defensive lines.

And now it's on to Albany.







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