BOZEMAN, Mont. – Kevin Decker (Armonk, N.Y.) threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Justin Mello (Dartmouth, Mass.) with six seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, but the extra point was blocked, allowing seventh-ranked Montana State to pull out a 26-25 victory over the 11th-ranked University of New Hampshire football team in a second-round NCAA Division I FCS playoff game Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.
UNH sees its season end at 8-4 overall, while Montana State improves to 10-2 and a quarterfinal game at top-seeded Sam Houston State next weekend.
Chris Beranger (Winthrop, Mass.) recorded a game-high 15 tackles, and the Wildcats forced four turnovers, highlighted by a 58-yard interception return for a touchdown by Matt Evans (Hanover, Mass./11 tackles).
The Wildcats trailed 26-19 with 4:08 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Decker completed all six pass attempts in advancing the ball to the MSU 19-yard line. On second down, Decker was intercepted by Darius Jones at the 5 with 1:16 on the clock.
UNH's defense forced a three-and-out and MSU's punt sailed out of bounds at the Bobcats' 29 with 17 seconds to play.
On first down, Decker's pass attempt to the back-right corner of the end zone intended for Joey Orlando (Bethlehem, Pa.) sailed wide out of bounds. Decker lofted the ball deep to the right corner on the next play, and Mello raced past the defender to catch the ball for a 29-yard touchdown that lifted New Hampshire within 26-25 with six seconds remaining.
On the ensuing PAT, the kick by Mike MacArthur (North Hampton, N.H.), who was 40-for-42 on PAT attempts this season (including 2 of 2 earlier in the game), was tipped by Steven Bethley and caromed off the right post. It marked the second time that the difference between the Wildcats and the Bobcats was a missed PAT in a playoff game, bringing back memories of the 1976 D-II playoff loss in Bozeman.
New Hampshire received the opening kickoff and put together an 11-play, 45-yard drive that was capped by MacArthur's 36-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 10:10 left in the first quarter.
Montana State's initial possession ended with a turnover when Sean McCann (Avon Lake, Ohio) rushed quarterback DeNarius McGee, helping cause an overthrown pass that was intercepted by Rod Walker (Portsmouth, N.H.) at the UNH 38 and returned 15 yards to the Bobcats' 47. The Wildcats advanced into the red zone before coming up short on a 4th-and-2 play from the 17.
The next Bobcats' drive also came to an abrupt end when McGee's 3rd-and-8 pass from the UNH 42 was intercepted by Evans, who raced back 58 yards for a touchdown, his third career pick-six and second of the season. That upped New Hampshire's lead to 10-0 with 32 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
Montana State got on the scoreboard with 12:43 left in the second on a 41-yard field goal by Jason Cunningham that trimmed the deficit to 10-3.
The Bobcats sliced the Wildcats' lead to 10-9 on an 11-yard TD pass from McGee to Tray Robinson with 5:44 left in the half, but New Hampshire's Steven Thames (Fort Washington, Md.) raced around the left end and blocked the PAT, which was scooped up by Anthony Gorrell (New Brunswick, N.J.) and returned 86 yards for a two-point conversion and a 12-9 UNH advantage.
UNH then parlayed another Montana State special teams miscue into points when Shawn Johnson fumbled a punt return that was recovered by Chris Setian (East Longmeadow, Mass.) at MSU's 18. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Decker rolled to his left and completed a pass in the flat to Mello, who scampered down the sideline into the end zone for an 18-yard TD that built the lead to 19-9 with 3:04 remaining in the second quarter.
The Bobcats ended the second quarter on an up note, compiling seven-play, 60-yard drive punctuated by McGee's two-yard touchdown rush on 3rd-and goal with 25 seconds left. The PAT made the halftime score 19-16.
Montana State claimed its first lead, 23-19, with 10:52 left in the third quarter when McGee called his own number, weaved through traffic and dashed 37 yards for a TD to conclude a seven-play, 80-yard drive.
The Bobcats increased their lead to 26-19 with 9:38 left in the game by amassing a time-consuming, 12-play, 70-yard drive that lasted more than six minutes and resulted in a 26-yard field goal by Jason Cunningham.