PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The University of New Hampshire football team, ranked #5 in the nation in the FCS, was defeated 38-16 by FBS representative University of Pittsburgh in front of 50,120 fans Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field.
Both teams are now 1-1 overall. UNH, out of the Football Championship Subdivision, entered the game with five consecutive wins against Football Bowl Subdivision teams dating back to the 2004 season; the Wildcats defeated Ball State (2009), Army (2008), Marshall (2007), Northwestern (2006) and Rutgers (2004) during that span.
UNH starting quarterback R.J. Toman (Mission Viejo, Calif.) completed 15 of 29 pass attempts for 183 yards. Kevin Decker (Armonk, N.Y.) entered the game in the fourth quarter and led the Wildcats to a scoring drive. He went 6-for-8 for 42 yards, including an 11-yard scoring pass play to Sean Cullen (Naples, Fla.), and was the team's leading rusher with 27 yards on three carries.
Junior tight end Chris Jeannot (Moon Township, Pa.) recorded career highs in both receptions (12) and receiving yards (110). Sean Jellison (Amherst, N.H.) and Terrance Fox (Piscataway, N.J.) were the next top targets with 46 and 42 receiving yards, respectively.
UNH's defensive effort was led by Hugo Souza (Marshfield, Mass.; eight tackles), Devon Jackson (Williamstown, N.J.) and Matt Evans (Hanover, Mass.), who finished with seven tackles apiece. Ryan McGuinness (Howell, N.J.) recorded an interception while both John Murray (Aston, Pa.) and Lance Mailloux (Bedford, N.H.) tallied sacks.
Pitt was led on the ground by Ray Graham (nine carries, 115 yards, two TDs), while reigning Big East Player of the Year Dion Lewis was held to a career-low 27 yards on 10 carries. Tino Sunseri went 24 of 34 for 275 yards and two TDs. Jon Baldwin was the top target with six receptions for 100 yards.
An opportunistic Pittsburgh defense made an instant impact on the game's first play from scrimmage. Sophomore free safety Jarred Holley intercepted Toman's pass intended for Fox, giving the Panthers possession at the Wildcats' 16-yard line. Though Pitt only managed one yard of offense on the ensuing four-play drive that included a pass breakup by Kyle Flemings (Forty Fort, Pa.), the home team took a 3-0 lead on senior kicker Dan Hutchins' 32-yard field goal with 13:45 to go in the first quarter.
The Wildcats went into a no-huddle offense on their second possession and recorded consecutive first downs on completions from Toman to Fox for 12 yards and nine yards. UNH was then forced to punt, however, and the Panthers upped their lead to 10-0 with 3:52 left remaining in the opening stanza when, on their very next possession. They marched 54 yards on 11 plays before Lewis powered his way into the end zone from two yards out to cap off a drive that lasted six minutes, seven seconds.
UNH's defense forced Pitt to punt when Souza and Jackson stopped Graham on a 3rd-and-1 run.
New Hampshire got on the board at 11:57 of the second quarter on the first career field goal by sophomore A.J. DeLago (Menands, N.Y.), a 22-yarder that came at the conclusion of a 10-play, 75-yard drive, reducing Pittsburgh's lead to 10-3. The big play of the drive came when Toman, rolling to his right, found fellow captain Jellison sprinting down the left side of the field for a 38-yard pass play that brought the ball to the Panthers' five-yard line. During the drive, Toman also completed passes to Jeannot (nine yards) and Kevon Mason (Quincy, Mass; five yards), while adding a 19-yard run.
The Panthers would head to the halftime break with a 17-3 advantage courtesy of Sunseri's two-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Saddler with just 18 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Sunseri accounted for 54 of the 62 yards on the eight-play drive that took just one minute, highlighted by a 26-yard run to the UNH 11-yard line.
On the opening drive of the second half, the Wildcats' defense caused its first turnover when McGuinness intercepted Sunseri at the UNH 16-yard line, halting a Pitt drive inside the UNH red zone.
The Panthers, though, responded with a three-and-out defensive stance and, on the first play of their next offensive possession, Baldwin took a swing pass from Sunseri on the right sideline and broke free for a 56-yard touchdown, building the Pittsburgh lead to 24-3 with 10:18 left in the third quarter.
New Hampshire pulled within 24-10 at 7:10 on a two-yard run up the gut by Dontra Peters (Annapolis, Md.) and the ensuing PAT by DeLago. On the third play of the 89-yard drive, the 'Cats converted 3rd-and-9 with a 16-yard pass from Toman to Jeannot. UNH went into a hurry-up offense and, on the next play, Toman found Jeannot for a 19-yard completion. Following a pass interference call against the Panthers, a 13-yard run by Fox gave the 'Cats 1st-and-goal at the 2-yard line and Peters scored on the next snap.
Pitt reestablished a 24-point lead, 31-10, on an eight-yard rush by Graham at 2:20 of the third quarter. It capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 4:50 off the clock. Graham's 64-yard scamper made the score 38-10 at 10:43 of the fourth quarter.
UNH closed the scoring, 38-16, with 1:13 remaining in the game when Decker lofted an 11-yard TD pass to Cullen in the front-left side of the end zone. It was Cullen's first-career touchdown grab.
The Wildcats take on the Rhode Island Rams in their CAA conference opener at Meade Stadium in Kingston, R.I., next Saturday, Sept. 18, at 12 p.m. The next UNH home game at Cowell Stadium is Saturday, Sept. 25, versus Lehigh University at 12 p.m. For ticket information, call 1-800-745-3000, visit the Whittemore Center box office weekdays from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. or log on to UNHWildcats.com.