There are only eight teams left in the NCAA Division I Football Championship playoffs and two of them from the Atlantic 10 will be playing each other in New Hampshire and Massachusetts on Saturday, (Dec. 2) at 2:30 p.m. The two teams met earlier this season and the Minutemen held on for  the 28-20 victory as UNH ran out of time attempting to score and tie the game with a two-point conversion as the clock ran down. The Wildcats are the only team in the Atlantic 10 Football Conference to advance to the quarterfinals three straight years, while Massachusetts won the National Championship title back in 1998 and is coming off an impressive first-round victory over Lafayette (35-14). The Minutement controled the game throughout and were led by Steve Baylark, who carried the football 24 times for 152 yards and two rushing TDs. UNH improved its all-time Division I Football Championship record to 3-4 with a 41-38 victory at Hampton in the first round.. The Wildcats were led by junior quarterback Ricky Santos, who tied a career mark with five TD passes and 315 passing yards. The winner of this week's game will move on to play in the semifinals vs. the winner of the Southern Illinois Montana contest. 

The University of New Hampshire football team is making its third consecutive appearance at the NCAA I-AA tournament this season and becomes the first Atlantic 10 Football Conference team to accomplish that feat since Delaware did it from 1995 through 1997. UNH is also the only team in Atlantic 10 history to ever advance to the playoff quarterfinals three consecutive times.

UNH WINS FIRST-ROUND PLAYOFF BATTLE AT HAMPTON, 41-38:  Junior quarterback Ricky Santos (Bellingham, Mass.) passed for 315 yards and five touchdowns to lead the No. 9 ranked University of New Hampshire football team to a 41-38 win at No. 8 Hampton University on Saturday afternoon at Armstrong Stadium in NCAA Division I Championship first round playoff game. The Wildcats improve to 9-3 overall with the victory, while Hampton ends its season at 10-2. UNH is the first team in Atlantic 10 history to advance to the quarterfinals for the third straight season. The Wildcat defense stood up on the Pirates last full possession as Marvin Wright (Roxbury, Mass.) sacked Princeton Shepherd with 1:38 left to play. With 6:55 remaining in the game, UNH came up with the biggest play of the contest as the Wildcats faked a punt on fourth down, snapped directly to Evan Loring (Chocorua, NH.), and then he pitched the ball left to Maurice Duper (Baldwinsville, N.Y.) who ran 19 yards for the first down to keep the drive alive for the Wildcats. UNH capitalized on the drive to take a 41-38 lead with 4:40 remaining on a 25-yard TD pass to Chad Kackert (Simi Valley, Calif.) from Santos. With that score Santos tied a career-high with five passing touchdowns in the game.  "We had looked at their return and a couple times we were going call it and I just didn’t feel it. If we were going to do it, we were doing it now. The play was supposed to go right and Loring audibled left. I said go green and he went in. We had this in place all year and we never used it," said UNH head coach Sean McDonnell.  Shepherd scored on a six-yard TD run with 8:12 left in the third quarter to get Hampton within six points at 34-28. Swinton intercepted a Santos pass with 2:31 remaining in the third quarter to give the Pirates the ball on the UNH 23-yard line. Hampton then regained the lead at 35-34 on a six-yard pass from Shepherd to Marquay Daniels. The Pirates only needed five plays to punch it in the end zone. The ‘Cats went into the locker room with a 34-21 lead. UNH scored on five of nine possessions in the first half, including two of its first three to start the half. Bobby Simpson (Brockton, Mass.) scored his fifth touchdown on the season on a two-yard TD run to end the first half. Santos threw for 220 yards on 19 of 26 passing with four TD passes. He eclipsed the 10,000 yard mark with his passing total in the first half, while Ball went over 1,000 yards receiving for the third straight year. LeVan caught eight balls in the first half for an impressive 93 yards.

Junior quarterback Ricky Santos (Bellingham, Mass.) of the University of New Hampshire football team was named one of the top three finalists eligible to win the Walter Payton Award, which is presented annually to the top player in all of I-AA football by “The Sports Network”. Northern Arizona quarterback Jason? Murrietta, Santos, and Southern Illinois ?running back Arkee Whitlock will all be present at the 20th Annual ?I-AA College Football Awards in Chattanooga, Tenn, on Dec. 14.  More than 110 ?ballots were cast for the Payton, as well? as for the Buck Buchanan Award (I-AA defensive player of the year) and Eddie ?Robinson Award (I-AA coach of the year). Winners of the Buchanan and? Robinson will also be announced on Dec. 14, and the voting breakdown for? those awards will not be revealed until that time. Santos completed the regular season with ?2,681 passing yards and 23 touchdowns and added 12 rushing touchdowns to ?lead New Hampshire to an 8-3 record and its third consecutive playoff berth. His 12 rushing touchdowns was tops in the Atlantic 10 Football Conference. Santos was also named the Atlantic 10 Co-Offensive Player of the Year. He threw for 318 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Wildcats to victory against Hampton in the first round of the playoffs, and New Hampshire will travel to Massachusetts in a quarterfinal game on Saturday. Following the Hampton game, Santos now has 98 career  passing touchdowns, which puts him one shy of tying the Atlantic 10 record of 99. He also topped the 10,000 yard passing mark in the first round contest with 10,111 in just three seasons. Santos has led UNH to the NCAA quarterfinals three straight times, making the Wildcats the only team in Atlantic 10 history to accomplish that feat. Murrietta, a senior from Glendale, Ariz., threw for 2,827 yards with 34 touchdown passes and only five interceptions for the 6-5 Lumberjacks, who won four of their final five games. Murrietta was named the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year for the second time in his career for his efforts. Murrietta's 94 career touchdown passes rank second in Big Sky history, and his 10,726 career passing yards place him sixth in conference annals. Whitlock, a senior from Rock Hill, S.C., ran for 1,541 yards and 21 touchdowns during the regular season to lead the Salukis to an 8-3 record and their fourth consecutive playoff berth. He turned it on at the end of the year with 568 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in the month of November. Whitlock kept his strong play going in the first round of the NCAA Division I Football Championship, as he tallied 207 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Salukis past UT Martin, 36-30. Southern Illinois travels to Montana in a quarterfinal game on Saturday. The 2005 Walter Payton Award went to Eastern Washington quarterback Erik Meyer. Former winners Tony Romo (2002, Eastern Illinois, Dallas Cowboys),Brian Westbrook (2001, Villanova, Philadelphia Eagles), Adrian Peterson(1999, Georgia Southern, Chicago Bears), Brian Finneran (1997, Villanova, Atlanta Falcons), and Steve McNair (1994, Alcorn State, Baltimore Ravens) are among those serving in the NFL. UNH’s own Jerry Azumah, a defensive back who played for the NFL’s Chicago Bears, won the honor in 1998 as one of the NCAA’s all-time best running backs. In addition to Santos, senior wide receiver David Ball (Orange, Vt.) was one of the top 16 finalists for the Payton Award released this past month and he finished fifth in the voting this year. Santos was also a top-three finalist for the Payton in 2005, finishing second in the voting. Ball placed seventh in 2005.

CHAD KACKERT WINS TWO STRAIGHT FOR 'CATS WITH GAME-WINNING TOUCHDOWNS: Freshman running back Chad Kackert (Simi Valley, Calif.) continues to make big plays for the Wildcats. No plays have been bigger than the two game-winning touchdowns he had at Maine and at Hampton. Most recently, Kackert caught a 25-yard pass from junior quarterback Ricky Santos (Bellingham,  Mass.) with just 4:40 to play and the Wildcats down by a 35-34 score. His big catch gave the Wildcats a 41-38 advantage it would not relinquish.  In the Maine game, Kackert's only run was for a 6 yard touchdown in the first session of overtime to earn the Wildcats the 19-13 victory.

FOURTH DOWN PLAYS CARRY UNH TO VICTORY AT HAMPTON: Hampton head coach Joe Taylor mumbled about "fourth downs" after his team was defeated by the Wildcats in the their first round matchup. With time running out, UNH ran a fourth-down fake punt to get a first down. On the same drive, UNH was trailing 38-24 and needed to score. UNH got down to the Hampton 25 on fourth down and needed a big play and got one as junior quarterback Ricky Santos connected with freshman running back Chad Kackert (Simi Valley, Calif.) for a perfectly executed game-winning touchdown to make it 41-38.

One of the trademark traits of a successful team is to be able to win on the road and the Wildcats have done just that winning six of their seven games played this season out of a suitcase. UNH opened the season with a win at Northwestern (34-17), at Dartmouth (56-14) and at Delaware (52-49). UNH wrapped up the season with two straight wins on the road at Rhode Island (63-21) and at Maine in overtime (19-13). The Wildcats won their first NCAA game of 2006 out of a suitcase at Hampton, 41-38.  The only road loss of the season was in overtime at Northeastern on Oct. 21 (36-35). UNH is now 18-3 on the road over the past three seasons.

Junior running back Ricky Santos (Bellingham, Mass.) has run for 12 touchdowns this season to lead the Wildcats in that category. and he was the Atlantic 10's leader in TD runs through the regular season. He is also UNH's third-leading rusher with 135 carries for 355 yards so far this season.

RICKY SANTOS TOPS THE 10,000 YARD CAREER PASSING MARK: With his 315 passing yards in the victory at Hampton  Univerisity in the first round of the playoffs, junior quarterback Ricky Santos (Bellingham, Mass.) surpassed the 10,000 yard passing yardage milestone. He now has 10,111 career passing yards. The NCAA all-time record for I-AA is held by Steve McNair from Alcorn State, who amassed 14,496 yards in four season. Santos, who is just a junior, has another full season to attempt to close the gap.

DAVID BALL TOPS THE 1,000 YARD RECEIVING MARK FOR THE THIRD STRAIGHT SEASON: Senior wide receiver David Ball (Orange, Vt.) topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark the for third straight season, after making five catches for 70 yards and grabbing two TDs in UNH's victory at Hampton. For the season, he now has 1,060 receiving yards. His best season total came in 2005 when he made 87 catches for 1,551 yards.

Ricky Santos (Bellingham, Mass.) was named the Atlantic 10 Offensive Player of the Year and was named first-team All-Atlantic 10. Here is a look at UNH's Atlantic 10 Conference honorees.

First-team Offense
QB    Ricky Santos
WR    David Ball
OL    Tucker Peterson

Third-Team Offense
WR    Keith LeVan

Third-Team Defense
FS    Jeff Pammer
DB    John Clements
LB    Husain Karim

Senior defensive back Will Morey (Bridgewater, Mass.) made the play of his collegiate football career for the University of New Hampshire on Nov. 18 in UNH’s 19-13 victory over No. 22-ranked Maine, and as a result he earned Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Week honors.  The game was tied 13-13 and the Black Bears were driving with under a minute left to play. All Maine needed was a field goal or a touchdown to win the game in regulation time and crush UNH’s hope for a spot in the playoffs. It looked as though Maine was poised to score but Morey outran everyone to catch an overthrown ball on UNH’s own 10-yard line with just 29 seconds remaining in regulation. UNH took a knee to send the contest to overtime and the Wildcats went on to win it 19-13 thanks to a 6-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Chad Kackert (Simi Valley, Calif.).  Morey, who has seen additional playing time as a starter following the season-ending injury to All-Conference performer and senior Corey Graham (Buffalo, N.Y.), also had seven tackles on the afternoon.

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