VILLANOVA, Pa. – University of New Hampshire defensive end Brian McNally (Cornwall, N.Y.) strip-sacked Villanova quarterback Chris Whitney on a 2nd-and-goal play from the UNH five-yard line, and Cody Muller (Telford, Pa.) recovered with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter to preserve the 17th-ranked football team's 31-24 upset victory over the ninth-ranked Villanova Wildcats on Saturday afternoon at Villanova Stadium.
Dontra Peters (Annapolis, Md.) carried 12 times for 157 yards and a touchdown, and R.J. Toman (Mission Viejo, Calif.) passed for two touchdowns and ran for another for UNH, which improved to 6-4 overall and 4-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association after earning its school-record fourth win against a ranked opponent this season. Toman went 11 of 22 for 158 yards and one interception, and he added 23 rushing yards on 14 attempts. The senior signal caller moved into second place on UNH's all-time passing yards' list with 7,784, surpassing Ryan Day (7,670) and Bob Jean (7,742).
Whitney went 16 of 36 for 192 yards through the air and led 'Nova with 88 rushing yards on 24 carries with two touchdowns. Aaron Ball added 82 yards on 19 carries, but Villanova saw its chances to defend its national championship damaged, falling to 6-4, 4-3 in the CAA. The loss also snapped its 15-game home winning streak and dropped 'Nova's record to 23-2 in its last 25 home games.
Villanova committed a turnover on the first play from scrimmage when Whitney fumbled on an option run, with UNH senior safety Ryan McGuinness (Howell, N.J.) recovering on 'Nova's 24-yard line. New Hampshire failed to capitalize, however, as a 40-yard field goal from A.J DeLago (Menands, N.Y.) was negated by a false-start penalty, forcing the 'Cats to punt.
On the very next series, the UNH defense forced a Villanova three-and-out, with junior defensive end James Jenkins (Paterson, N.J./career-high-tying seven tackles) sacking Whitney for a six-yard loss to highlight the series. Hugo Souza (Marshfield, Mass.) returned the subsequent punt 12 yards, giving UNH possession at its own 42. Three plays later, Peters took a pitch around the right edge and dashed 51 yards for a touchdown, his team-leading seventh rushing score of the year. Redshirt-freshman H-back Chris Setian (East Longmeadow, Mass.) sealed the edge with the key block, allowing Peters to gain the sideline. Following DeLago's extra point, it was a 7-0 UNH lead with 10:49 remaining in the opening quarter.
Villanova fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and UNH senior safety Mike Perkins (Hingham, Mass./four tackles) dove on the loose ball at the 'Nova 16. Peters' 12-yard cutback run gave UNH first-and-goal at the Villanova 4, but New Hampshire had to settle for three when DeLago connected for a 22-yard field goal, upping the lead to 10-0 with 9:09 to go in the first.
The home team got on the scoreboard with 10:40 remaining in the first half by putting together a systematic 17-play, 86-yard drive that took 8:41 off the clock. Villanova converted two fourth-and-one plays on the drive, with the second conversion resulting in a 10-yard touchdown run from Angelo Babbaro (six carries-43 yards-TD) on an option pitch, trimming UNH's lead to 10-7.
The Wildcats struck back by employing the hurry-up offense, accounting for 64 yards on seven plays in just 1:39. Toman, who accounted for 52 of the 64 yards on the drive, took in a 10-yard keeper off the left side for a score, giving UNH a 17-7 lead with 8:54 left in the half. Toman completed 3 of 4 passes for 34 yards and rushed twice for 18 additional yards on the scoring drive. Sean Jellison (Souhegan, N.H./eight rushes-31 yards) carried for 12 yards and made a seven-yard reception on back-to-back plays, and Terrance Fox (Piscataway, N.J.) made two grabs for 27 yards, setting the stage for Toman's TD scamper.
Villanova scored on its next possession, with kicker Mark Hamilton hitting a 29-yard field goal –the first of his career- to cap a seven-play, 43-yard drive with 5:53 left in the first half, reducing New Hampshire's lead to 17-10.
UNH would go in front, 24-10, with 5:32 remaining in the half when Toman hit Joey Orlando (Bethlehem, Pa.) in stride deep down the middle for a 56-yard touchdown pass, the longest pass play of the season and a career-best reception for the sophomore wide receiver. Orlando finished the day with three catches for 92 yards and a touchdown.
Villanova would answer one more time before the intermission, scoring when Whitney called his own number, bulldozing his way in for a five-yard touchdown with 3:23 remaining in the second, slicing UNH's lead to 24-17 at the break.
Early in the third quarter, Villanova threatened by driving to the UNH 9, but the defensive line stood tall. McNally (two sacks) and Lance Mailloux (Bedford, N.H./four tackles) recorded sacks on back-to-back plays, and Steve Young (Rochester, N.H./four tackles) blocked Hamilton's 40-yard field goal attempt, preserving the seven-point lead.
That lead ballooned to 14 points for the second time in the game as New Hampshire went on the move. Peters carried for 29 yards into Villanova territory, Toman hit Orlando for 28 yards on a slant pattern to the 'Nova 9-yard line and, facing 3rd-and-goal at the six, Fox was on the receiving end of a Toman touchdown pass just inside the right edge of the end zone for a 31-17 lead with 5:08 left in the third. Fox made a team-high five receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown.
Villanova would climb back within a touchdown just 10 seconds into the fourth quarter when Whitney carried in from two yards out for his second scoring run of the afternoon, dropping UNH's advantage to 31-24. The 11-play, 57-yard drive took 5:12 off the clock.
'Nova amassed another time-consuming drive, moving from its own 6-yard line as deep as the UNH 19. A personal foul penalty knocked the hosts back to the 34, and the New Hampshire defense refused to yield with Jenkins swatting away a 4th-and-2 pass from Whitney at the 26 with 4:06 left in the game.
UNH then consumed 2:53 on a seven-play, 24-yard drive before the home Wildcats began their last drive at the VU 16 with 1:13 remaining.
Following an unsportsmanlike conduct call against UNH, 'Nova advanced the ball to the UNH 25 on Whitney-to-Dorian Wells pass plays of 17 and 18 yards. Facing 3rd-and-5 at the UNH 20 with 30 seconds to play, Whitney's pass fell incomplete but the defense was whistled for pass interference, which spotted the ball at the 5-yard line. Whitney threw the ball away on 1st-and-goal before McNally forced the game-winning fumble by notching his CAA-leading ninth sack of the season.
The 31 points scored by the Wildcats matched the most this season allowed by a Villanova defense that came into the game tied for third in the nation in scoring defense (14.2 ppg).
UNH plays host to Towson University next Saturday, Nov. 20, at 12 p.m. in the regular-season home finale. It will be Senior Day at Cowell Stadium, and the 1950 Wildcats, the last undefeated and untied team in school history, will be honored on the 60th anniversary of their historic season. For tickets, call (603) 862-4000, extension 5, visit the Whittemore Center Box Office weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m or visit www.unhwildcats.com.