ATLANTA – Andy Vailas (Bedford, N.H.) threw for four touchdowns, Nico Steriti (Toms River, N.J.) scored three times and University of New Hampshire head football coach Sean McDonnell earned his 100th career victory as the No. 14/17 Wildcats defeated Georgia State, 44-21, on Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
With its second straight win, UNH improves to 4-2 on the season and 2-1 in the CAA. GSU falls to 0-5.
McDonnell, in his 14th season, joins his former head coach, Bill Bowes (175 victories in 27 seasons), as the only UNH coaches to ever reach the century mark in career wins.
The Wildcats totaled 624 yards on offense while holding the Panthers to 299 yards. UNH accumulated 332 rushing yards, as both Steriti (11 carries-126 yards, two TDs) and Jimmy Owens (West Deptford, N.J./15 rushes-120 yards) eclipsed the 100-yard mark.
The New Hampshire defense forced five turnovers, with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Jared Smith (Greencastle, Pa.) notched a forced fumble and two sacks among his five tackles. Matt Evans (Hanover, Mass./six tackles) and Cody Muller (Telford, Pa./one tackle, fumble recovery) also registered sacks.
Chris Houston (Harrisburg, Pa.), Hayden Knudson (Alexandria, Va.) and Alan Buzbee (Chester, N.J.) each intercepted a pass.
Vailas went 18 of 35 for 252 yards and four TDs. Harold Spears (Perkasie, Pa.) set career highs with six receptions for 94 yards and a TD. Jimmy Giansante (Jefferson Hills, Pa.) tallied four grabs for 65 yards.
UNH snapped a 7-7 tie early in the second quarter by parlaying the game's first turnover into points. Smith, applying backside pressure, blindsided GSU quarterback Ronnie Bell, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Muller at the Panthers' 21. Steriti then picked up 13 yards on a sweep around the right end before nabbing a Vailas pass on a shallow crossing route from right to left for an eight-yard TD –the first scoring reception of the sophomore's career and a 14-7 lead.
Special teams set up New Hampshire's next scoring drive. After a Smith sack forced GSU into a fourth-and-19 from its own 16, Knudson deflected Matt Hubbard's punt, resulting in a 24-yard kick that gave the 'Cats possession at the Panthers' 40. Steriti subsequently carried for eight yards, Vailas connected on a 25-yard seam-route pass to Spears and Steriti scored his second touchdown of the game by reversing direction on a left-side rush, slamming on the brakes, cutting to his right and maneuvering his way for a seven-yard TD and a 21-7 advantage with 8:54 left in the second.
The lead ballooned to 28-7 just 26 seconds into the second half on a five-yard TD pass from Vailas to Justin Mello (Dartmouth, Mass.). Moments earlier, UNH forced its third turnover of the game when Tre Williams (Syracuse, N.Y.) got to Bell on a safety blitz, forcing an errant pass that was intercepted at the GSU 17 by Alan Buzbee (Chester, N.J.), who returned the pick 12 yards.
The Wildcats would push the lead to 35-7 when Vailas tossed his fourth TD pass of the day to a fourth different receiver, Chris Setian (East Longmeadow, Mass.), who hauled in a screen pass and raced a career-best 25 yards for a TD with 3:17 remaining in the third quarter.
Mike MacArthur (North Hampton, N.H.) tacked on a season-high 43-yard field goal with 40 seconds remaining in the third to push the New Hampshire cushion to 38-7.
Georgia State received a brief spark on a 26-yard TD pass from Ben McLane to Emmanuel Ogbuehi that cut the deficit to 38-14 at 13:52 of the fourth quarter.
But New Hampshire retaliated nine seconds later courtesy of a 63-yard kickoff return by Jared Allison (Cliffwood, N.J.), followed by Steriti's third TD of the contest, a 34-yard run jaunt for a 44-14 lead.
The teams exchanged touchdowns on their initial possessions. First, UNH marched 68 yards on four plays, with a career-long 29-yard rush by R.J. Harris (Odenton, Md.) setting the stage for a Vailas-to-Spears 26-yard TD pass.
GSU drew even, 7-7, when Bell found Albert Wilson for a 54-yard touchdown pass with 11:01 left in the opening quarter.
The Wildcats return to Cowell Stadium for a Homecoming matchup against Richmond on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 12 p.m. For tickets, visit www.unhwildcats.com or call (603) 862-4000, extension 5.