New Hampshire tops Chattanooga 35-30 in FCS quarterfinals

DURHAM, N.H. (AP) After being outplayed for three quarters, a pair of quick touchdowns and a critical turnover were enough to rally New Hampshire to a berth in the FCS semifinals.

The top-seeded Wildcats scored twice in a span of 2 minutes, 19 seconds early in the fourth quarter to finally pull away in a 35-30 win over Chattanooga on Friday night in an FCS quarterfinal.

''I think our offense did a great job scoring and we did a good job stopping them when we had to,'' defensive back Casey DeAndrade, who had seven tackles and one of New Hampshire's two sacks.

New Hampshire fell behind three different times before regaining the lead for good on a 6-yard touchdown run by Nico Steriti with 11:04 left in the fourth. Steriti's second touchdown of the game gave the Wildcats a 28-24 lead, which R.J. Harris added to by taking a screen pass 61 yards for a touchdown on New Hampshire's next play from scrimmage.

The quick strikes were too much for Chattanooga to overcome, although the Mocs (10-4) certainly gave the home fans at Cowell Stadium plenty to worry about while racking up 566 yards of offense.

''It's a really good football team we played today. They do a lot of great things on the offensive side of the ball that create problems for defenses,'' New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell said. ''I was really proud of the way our kids just stayed the course.''

Sean Goldrich passed for three touchdowns and ran for another for the Wildcats, who reached 12 victories for the first time in school history.

Harris had seven catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-breaker on a wild play that caught Chattanooga off guard. It started with Harris taking a handoff and pitching the ball to Jimmy Giansante, who pitched it one more time to Goldrich as Harris quietly slipped to the flat.

Goldrich lofted a short pass back to Harris, who sprinted down the New Hampshire sideline untouched for a touchdown.

''Once I looked downfield I had three linemen in front of me and I felt safe behind them,'' Harris said. ''Who wouldn't feel safe behind them?''

It was the first feeling of security for New Hampshire, which trailed 21-15 at halftime after Jacob Huesman's 1-yard touchdown run with 21 seconds left in the second quarter.

Huesman ran for 93 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 335 yards and another TD, completing 28 of 37 passes. He also had the only turnover, a pass Nick Cefalo intercepted with 8:04 remaining to help New Hampshire seal the victory.

The only area Chattanooga didn't control was the kicking game. Chattanooga had several poor punts and breakdowns covering kickoffs, which New Hampshire turned to its advantage.

''I was afraid we were going to get somebody hurt. Their kickoff cover team was going so relentless and just with such effort,'' Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman said. ''They were just outplaying us and outmanning us on those units. That killed us. The field position on kickoffs and kick returns was absolutely ridiculous.''

Dalton Crossan returned three kickoffs for 120 yards, including a pair that helped set up quick touchdowns for the Wildcats just after Chattanooga had scored.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.