DURHAM, N.H.- Kevin Decker (Armonk, N.Y.) passed for career highs of 352 yards and four touchdowns, the final one a 60-yard strike to Justin Mello (Dartmouth, Mass.) with 1:10 remaining in the game, to propel the No. 7/9 University of New Hampshire football team a 39-32 victory over Holy Cross before 8,307 fans at Cowell Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Wildcats (3-1, 1-0 Colonial Athletic Association) notched their third straight victory and made it seven consecutive wins in home openers at Mooradian Field. The Crusaders (2-2, 1-0 Patriot League) saw their two-game winning streak snapped in the first meeting between the two New England Football Championship Subdivison (FCS) schools since 1984.
Decker went 23 of 31, matching his personal best for completions, and threw his four scoring passes to four different receivers. Mello eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark for the first time in his career, tallying two receptions for a team-leading 107 yards.
Mickey Mangieri (Pound Ridge, N.Y.), seeing his first game action since Dec. 5, 2009, posted career bests with six receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown.
Dontra Peters (Annapolis, Md.) recorded his 100-yard rushing game of the year, gaining 104 yards on 18 carries.
Chris Beranger (Winthrop, Mass.) made a team-high 12 stops for his third double-digit tackle performance in four games while Matt Evans (Hanover, Mass.) made it four straight games in double-figure tackles with 11 stops.
Kyle Toulouse amassed 13 receptions for 110 yards and Gerald Mistretta added six catches for 136 yards to lead the Crusaders' receiving corps.
UNH snapped a 32-32 tie when Decker, on 3rd-and-8 from the Holy Cross 40, found a streaking Mello down the right sideline for the longest pass play of the season and the sophomore receiver's first career TD reception.
Holy Cross moved the ball to the UNH 33 on its final possession, but the last-ditch effort fell short when Taggart's pass intended for Jon Smith in the UNH end zone was batted away as time expired.
The Wildcats jumped out to a 7-0 lead with 8:29 left in the first quarter when Decker hit Jimmy Giansante (Jefferson Hills, Pa./one catch-27 yards, TD) for a 27-yard score.
Holy Cross tallied its first points with 3:23 remaining in the first courtesy of a 33-yard field goal from John Macomber to trim New Hampshire's lead to 7-3.
The Crusaders moved in front, 10-7, for its only lead on a three-yard touchdown pass from Taggart to Mike Fess (11 catches, 95 yards, TD) with 9:06 left in the half.
The 'Cats seized the lead right back on a 31-yard Decker-to-Mangieri TD followed by Decker's full-extension leap over the goal line on the successful two-point conversion for a 15-10 lead with 6:46 to go in the half.
UNH took an 18-10 lead to the locker room when Mike MacArthur (North Hampton, N.H.) kicked a 25-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
The Wildcats' biggest lead of the afternoon came after a nine-play, 79-yard drive capped by Decker's third scoring strike of the day, a five-yard pass to Joey Orlando (Bethlehem, Pa.) with 10:22 to play in the third quarter for a 25-13 lead. Orlando, who totaled 54 receiving yards in the contest, paced UNH with seven catches.
Holy Cross responded with an 87-yard scoring drive that culminated in Taggart's 10-yard TD run with 7:53 left in the third. The Crusaders cut the deficit to 25-19, but Macomber's PAT failed.
The Crusaders saw an opportunity to take the lead go by the boards after Macomber's second missed point-after with 11:36 left in the game. Moments earlier, Mistretta caught a 4th-and-3 pass from Taggart and raced 35 yards to the end zone, tying the score at 25-25.
New Hampshire reclaimed the lead, 32-25, when Chris Setian (East Longmeadow, Mass./eight rushes-64 yards, TD) bruised his way in for a one-yard TD rush with 9:53 left in the fourth. The score was set up by Decker's 47-yard completion to Mello down to the Holy Cross 1.
Taggart once again brought the Crusaders even at 32 apiece by scampering in for a 13-yard touchdown, his second of the game, with 2:30 left in the contest.
UNH challenges the Villanova Wildcats in a CAA encounter at Cowell Stadium next Saturday, Oct. 8, at 12 p.m. For tickets, visit www.unhwildcats.com or call (603) 862-4000, x 5.