TOLEDO, Ohio – New Hampshire football coach Sean McDonnell decided to roll the dice, hoping to come up with boxcars to give his team a shot at snapping its recent string of losses against FBS schools.
But instead the Wildcats rolled snake eyes, as a failed fake punt set up the University of Toledo for a short field and an easy touchdown.
And that play seemed to propel the Rockets to a 54-20 victory at Glass Bowl Stadium Saturday.
New Hampshire, which entered its season-opening contest ranked fourth among FCS schools, now has lost five straight games against FBS squads after winning the previous five in a row.
“We have a pretty good idea that we want to cut loose and do some things when we play these games [against FBS opponents],” McDonnell said. “But it was a poor call on my part. …
“We felt we had to score a lot of points to stay in this game. … We had to do something to score points.”
McDonnell’s key decision came on the first drive of the second half, with UNH trailing 16-14. Facing a fourth-and-one on its own 48, punter Brad Prasky took the snap and raced forward, only to be met by Rockets DeJuan Rogers and Ray Bush a yard short of the first down.
“I have to look in the mirror myself: That [decision] was awful,” McDonnell said. “From that point they played downhill.
“They gained confidence, and they were physical on us. And their quarterback made good decisions against us.”
Toledo needed just seven plays to find the end zone after the failed fake, with Kareem Hunt scoring on a 2-yard run.
That touchdown ignited a lopsided finish that saw UT outscore the Wildcats 38-6 in the second half.
“We couldn’t tackle in open space, we couldn’t fill gaps, and we gave away blitzes,” McDonnell said of his team’s defense. “It was like reading a book for them: They were a step ahead of us the whole game.”
The first half saw the Wildcats take the game to Toledo as the UNH defense stopped the Rockets on their first drive, allowing New Hampshire to take over on its own 29 and drove 71 yards on 10 plays.
The Wildcats faced a third-and-11 from Toledo’s 35 when Sean Goldrich read a Rockets blitz and called for a wide receiver screen. Tackle Austin Heter cleared out a Toledo defender, and R.J. Harris was wide open as he caught Goldrich’s pass and raced untouched for a touchdown at the 9:08 mark of the quarter.
The Rockets responded quickly on their next drive, driving from their own 17 to UNH’s 9 in eight plays. But facing a first-and-goal, the Wildcats stiffened and forced Toledo to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Jeremiah Detmer with 4:46 on the clock.
New Hampshire carried that 7-3 lead into the second quarter when it took possession on its own 13, then saw a first-down sack move them back to the 9.
Then Goldrich took over, handling the ball for all but two of the Wildcats’ 13 plays on the drive, running for 18 yards while completing 6-of-7 passes for 43 yards. He also finished off the drive with a 4-yard TD run up the middle with 7:43 on the clock.
But Toledo responded quickly as quarterback Phillip Ely found Corey Jones wide open behind the defense, and Jones raced 64 yards to paydirt.
The Wildcats were able to drive into Rockets territory but were forced to punt, and Prasky’s 43-yard boot pinned Toledo on its 4 with just 2:16 left in the half.
But the Rockets rolled 96 yards in 10 plays, split evenly between five runs for 36 yards and five Ely passes for 60 yards.
Hunt closed out the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run with just 24 seconds to play, and after a bad snap on Toledo’s extra-point attempt New Hampshire trailed 16-14 at the half.
After Hunt’s TD following the faked punt, the Rockets scored touchdowns on their next four possessions and a field goal on their fifth.
Ely, who completed 24-of-34 passes for 337 yards, threw second-half touchdown passes of 9 and 8 yards to Justin Olack as well as a 40-yard catch-and-run to Terry Swanson.
Damion Jones-Moore also had a 4-yard TD run for the Rockets and Detmer added a 25-yard field goal that closed the scoring.
Toledo finished with 674 yards of total offense, nicely balanced between 360 yards passing and 314 yards rushing.
Hunt led Toledo with 136 yards on the ground in 20 carries.
“I was very disappointed that we didn’t do the things that I thought we were capable of doing defensively,” McDonnell said. “We did a lot of things right in this game, and we made some plays. …
“But we have a lot of work to do.”
New Hampshire’s only points in the second half came at the end of a seven-play, 74-yard drive that was capped by an 8-yard touchdown toss from Goldrich to Nico Steriti.
The Wildcats went for two in an attempt to cut the deficit to eight points, but Steriti was tackled a yard short of the end zone on a play that originally was ruled a conversion before it was overturned on replay.
New Hampshire’s Andy Vailas came on to direct the final drive and led the Wildcats to Toledo’s 7, only to throw a pass that was intercepted by Delando Johnson in the end zone.
Goldrich completed 27-of-39 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns in the contest. His completion mark was a career high, while he tied his career bests in both attempts and yards.
“Sean Goldrich is a good football player,” McDonnell said. “That’s what we’ve seen from the middle of last year. …
“Now we have to get moving some people up front so we can run the ball and give him a little bit of a break.”
The Wildcats finished with just 37 yards rushing and 375 yards of total offense.
“We got off to a fast start, but we kind of slowed down in the second half,” said Harris, who caught nine passes for 149 yards. “We couldn’t put things together and sustain drives. …
“I think we did some things well, but I think we need to take this bye week and the week leading up to Lehigh to do things better.”