UNH FOOTBALL OPENS SEASON WITH WIN OVER #1 DELAWARE, 24-21
R.J. Harvey

NEWARK, DE (September 2, 2004) -- Redshirt freshman quarterback Ricky Santos took over for injured starter Mike Granieri in the first half and hit on 10 of 11 passes for 146 yards and threw a game-clinching 44-yard touchdown pass to David Ball early in the fourth quarter as New Hampshire upset top-ranked and defending NCAA I-AA national champion University of Delaware Thursday night in the football season opener for both teams at Delaware Stadium.

The Wildcats, who defeated a No. 1 ranked team for the first time in school history, held the lead for the entire game before Delaware (0-1) went up 21-17 on a seven-yard touchdown run by senior Sean Bleiler (90 yards) with 13:56 left to play. But New Hampshire (1-0) came right back on its next possession and moved 67 yards on eight plays for the what proved to be the winning score when Santos hit Ball across the middle for a 44-yard pass play.

Delaware, which won its final six games on the way to capturing the 2003 NCAA I-AA title with a 15-1 mark, had a 10-game home win streak as the sellout crowd of 22,727 went home disappointed. The Hens lost just their second season opener in the last 10 years.

Granieri, a third-year starter and widely considered one of the best quarterbacks in the Atlantic 10, went down with a knee injury midway through the second quarter and is expected to miss the entire season. But Santos was up to the task in relief as he failed to complete just one of his 11 passes and led UNH to the victory in his collegiate debut.

New Hampshire running back R.J. Harvey rushed 32 times for 114 yards and two touchdowns, including a one-yard scoring dive to open the scoring with 6:32 left in the first quarter and on an eight-yard run with 2:10 left in the third quarter that gave the Wildcats their biggest lead of the night at 17-8. Ball caught five passes for 118 yards to aid the UNH attack. New Hampshire, although outgained 351-340 by the Blue Hens, held a 12-minute advantage in time of possession.

"Any loss is a tough loss," said Delaware third-year head coach K.C. Keeler. "You can't be that inefficient inside and 20-yard line and turn the ball over. They really took it to us up front and that surprised us because we have so players back on the defensive front and at linebacker. We didn't tackle well and that is a credit to New Hampshire. We come out of this game with a lot of questions. We have to handle adversity and I think we will be fine. We knew this was going to a tough opener and it was."

Delaware junior quarterback Sonny Riccio, a tranfser from Missouri who was making his first start at Delaware, completed 13 of 17 passes for 101 yards and one touchdown, a 29-yard screen pass to redshirt freshman running back Lonnie Starks with 1:34 left in the third quarter that cut the UNH lead to 17-15. Starks rushed for 74 yards on 11 carries and caught four passes for 40 yards. Brad Shushman added field goals of 27 and 22 yards for the Blue Hens.

After UNH took a 10-3 lead on a 36-yard field goal by Connor McCormick early in the third quarter, the Hens rallied back, converting a safety when New Hampshire snapped the ball over punter Matt Henry's head and Henry wisely knocked the ball out of the back of the end zone to cut the lead to 10-5. Sidney Haugabrook's 56-yard return off the ensuing punt set up a 22-yard field goal by Brad Shushman to cut the lead to 10-8 with 5:37 left in the third.

Harvey's eight-yard run upped the New Hampshire lead to 17-8 but Starks followed with his scoring pass from Riccio to cut the lead to 17-15 and Hens went ahead just under three minutes later when Bleiler scored from seven yards out to give Delaware a 21-17 lead with 13:56 left to play. Bleiler's score was set up by a 61-yard pass from backup quarterback Ryan Carty to David Boler. Carty had been in the game for only a few plays after Riccio left with leg cramps.

New Hampshire then came back with its game-winning drive. The Wildcats could have added some breathing room but couldn't take advantage when Starks fumbled the following kickoff, giving UNH the ball at the Delaware 38-yard line. New Hampshire drove the ball against the Hens but came up short when Harvey fumbled at the goal line with 9:17 left. But Delaware couldn't take advantage of the miscue, failing to score in either of their final two possessions.

Delaware had defeated New Hampshire three straight times and seven times in the previous eight meetings and also was working on a streak of winning 14 straight home games in September.

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