TOWSON, Md. - Sophomore quarterback Ricky Santos took third-ranked New Hampshire overland, throwing for 422 yards and three touchdowns and scoring twice himself to lead the Wildcats to a 62-21 victory over Towson in the Atlantic 10 Football Conference opener for both teams Saturday afternoon in Johnny Unitas Stadium.
The win improved the Wildcats to 2-0 on the year while the Tigers, who are still looking for their first win as a second year A-10 member, dropped to 2-1.
The 62 points were the most ever surrendered by the Tigers at home.
"We felt this was a little bit of a benchmark game.for us," head coach Gordy Combs said. "You look at the final score and it looks very similar to last year but it was a lot of different because it wasn't 31-0 with 10 minutes to go in the second quarter. The huge play was the interception by (Corey) Graham that was returned for a touchdown. We were fighting our way back into the game and that made the score 48-21."
New Hampshire wasted no time establishing its offense. The Wildcats drove 80 yards on the game's opening drive in seven plays with Santos keeping for a seven-yard TD run, giving UNH a 7-0 lead just 2:44 into the contest.
Later in the period the Tigers dodged a big bullet when they stopped the Wildcats at the one-yard line after UNH had worked to a first and goal at Towson's two yard line. The Wildcats had to settle for a 19- yard field goal by Connor McCormick as UNH built its lead to 10-0 with 4:20 left in the opening period.
Towson came right back on the ensuing series. After a kickoff return of 30 yards by Rocky Brown to the Towson 47, quarterback Sean Schaefer hooked up with Andrae Brown for a 43-yard completion that gave the Tigers a first and goal at the UNH nine-yard line. Two plays later tailback Nick Williams tallied from four yards out as the Tigers narrowed the gap to 10-7 with 2:30 remaining in the quarter.
The first quarter scoring spree continued as the Wildcats mounted another drive, going 72 yards in six plays with Santos throwing the final 36 yards to Jonathan Williams. The Wildcats upped the lead to 17-7 with 1:14 left.
Midway in the second quarter the Wildcats received good field position at the Towson 42-yard line following a 20-yard Towson punt. Santos hit Ball on a 36 yard completion that carried to the Tigers' six. Three plays later John McCoy nosed in from two yards out as UNH assumed a 24-7 lead with 7:15 left in the first half.
The Tigers mounted a rally near the end of the first half, marching to the Wildcats 27 where the drive stalled on downs with 1:17 left to play.
The Wildcats decided not to waste the time. Santos immediately went right to the air, connecting with Aaron Brown on a 63-yard completion to the Towson 13-yard line. But the Tigers came out of it with a moral victory, holding the Wildcats to a field goal, a 36-yard boot by McCormick, the 34th field goal of his career, with 17 seconds remaining. UNH took a 27-7 lead into the lockerroom.
Towson came out with renewed enthusiasm in what would prove to be a wild third quarter, marching down the field in eight plays with Schaefer tossing 10 yards to freshman wide receiver Marcus Lee for his first career touchdown catch, cutting into UNH's lead, 27-14 with 13:06 left in the period.
The Wildcats weren't impressed, however. Corey Graham returned the ensuing kickoff 53 yards to the Towson 40. McCoy carried three times to the Tigers' five-yard line where Santos took it on a keeper. The Wildcats got back its comfortable cushion, 34-14 at the 11:50 mark.
Towson once again handed the Wildcats good field position when a punt gave UNH the ball at the Tigers' 31-yard line. The effort stalled and McCormick's 42-yard field goal attempt missed, hitting the right upright.
Buoyed by the stop, the Tigers used 5:04 off the clock, going 75 yards in 14 plays with Schaefer hitting Eric Yancey on a 23-yard scoring strike to end the drive and once again cut into the Wildcats' lead, 34-21 with 4:29 left in the period.
The aerial show continued as Santos found Keith LeVan streaking down the side line for a 46-yard touchdown, just 1:16 later, putting the Wildcats on top 41-21.
New Hampshire's defense got into the act on the next series when Graham swiped a Schaefer at the Wildcats' 25 and returned it 75 yards for the game breaking touchdown as UNH stretched its lead to 48-21 with 1:46 left in the period. That seemed to be cap the Wildcats needed to finally put away the Tigers.
Santos closed out his day with his third touchdown pass, hitting Ball on a 39-yarder to begin the fourth quarter.
With time running out the Wildcats went to the bench. Backup tailback Robert Simpson broke through on a 68-yard gallop that ended the scoring, handing the Tigers their worst licking ever at home.
Santos completed 23 of 33 passes for his 422 yards, the second best game of his career. Ball hauled in seven passes for 152 yards. Simpson wound up as the game's leading rusher with 79 yards.
Schaefer passes for 256 yards for Towson, going 24 of 40 with two picks. Andrae Brown and DayRon Arnold shared receiving honors with six catches each.
Freshman linebacker Jordan Manning led the Tigers' defense with 15 tackles that included 12 solos.
Towson is back in action next Saturday when the Tigers travel to Northeastern. New Hampshire plays at Dartmouth.