NCAA Division I Football Championship • Second Round
No. 11/13 New Hampshire (8-3, 6-2 CAA) at No. 9/9 Wofford (8-3, 6-2 SoCon)
Dec. 1, 2012 • 2:00 p.m. • Gibbs Stadium • Spartanburg, S.C.
Mike Gleason (play-by-play) • Rocky Boiman (Analyst) • Rontina McCann (sidelines)
Radio: Wildcat Sports Radio Network
Bob Lipman (play-by-play) • Chris Chandler (analyst)
•UNH is in the NCAA playoffs for the ninth straight season, the longest current streak in FCS football. The streak began with a 27-23 first-round victory at Georgia Southern on Nov. 27, 2004, which marked the first postseason victory in UNH history. Saturday's inaugural matchup with Wofford marks the first meeting with a Southern Conference opponent since that watershed victory.
•The Wildcats are 6-8 in playoff games in the Sean McDonnell era. UNH has dropped its last two postseason contests, but has never lost three straight postseason games under Coach Mac.
•Saturday's game at Gibbs Stadium represents the 11th consecutive road playoff game UNH has had to endure. The Wildcats are 4-6 since their last home postseason game, a 24-21 loss to Northern Iowa on Dec. 3, 2005.
•UNH is 1-9 all-time in December games. Its lone December triumph was a 45-20 win at Bethune-Cookman in the second round of the 2010 NCAA Championship.
• UNH leads the CAA and is third nationally in Red Zone offense. The Wildcats have scored on 46 of 49 attempts (94.0%) inside the opponent's 20-yard line, with 36 touchdowns and 10 field goals. UNH went a perfect 22-for-22 in home red zone opportunities and has a streak of 23 straight successful conversions.
•The 64-35 loss to Towson on Nov. 17 snapped New Hampshire's 10-game home winning streak and a nine-year stretch of victories in a regular-season finale. Of UNH's 14 postseason trips, this is the first that comes on the heels of a loss.
•The Wildcats have surrendered 64 points in two games this season, which is the first time two opponents have scored at least that many in the same year since 1914. Only once (1988) since that time had a foe tallied 64 points against the 'Cats.
LAST TIME OUT: TOWSON-64, UNH-35 - NOV. 17
DURHAM, N.H. – Andy Vailas scored a 77-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage and accounted for three TDs, but No. 19/16 Towson stormed past the No. 7/7 UNH football team, 64-35, in the Nov. 17 CAA regular-season finale at Cowell Stadium.
Terrance West rushed 19 times for 236 yards and two touchdowns for Towson (7-4, 6-2 CAA), which claims a share of the CAA championship with UNH (8-3, 6-2), Richmond and Villanova.
Vailas was the Wildcats' leading rusher with a career-high 110 yards on eight carries, two of which went for TDs, and the signal caller went 3-for-9 through the air for 33 yards and a TD. He scored on a nine-yard rush late in the first quarter and completed an 18-yard TD strike to Brian Ciccone with just under four minutes remaining in the second quarter. It was Ciccone's first career TD reception.
Steven Thames (four tackles) scored on a 65-yard blocked field-goal return with no time left in the first half to draw the Wildcats within 30-28 at the intermission, but the Tigers outscored the 'Cats 34-7 in the second half en route to their fourth consecutive victory.
Jared Smith (four tackles) blocked the aforementioned field goal and added a blocked PAT.
R.J. Harris (two catches-20 yards, TD) scored UNH's final TD on a 16-yard reception from Sean Goldrich late in the fourth. Goldrich went 9 of 18 for 108 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
West, who set a career high with 261 rushing yards in last year's game against New Hampshire, scored on a four-yard run in the first quarter that staked Towson to a 7-6 lead and added a five-yard scamper early in the fourth that ballooned the Tigers' advantage to 50-28.
Towson quarterback Grant Enders went 20 of 28 for 245 yards and two TDs, and he added 11 carries for 39 yards and two rushing scores.
Dominique Booker rushed 13 times for 89 yards and two touchdowns as Towson racked up 415 rushing yards and 660 total yards of offense.
The Tigers held the Wildcats to 141 passing yards and forced three turnovers, highlighted by a 26-yard fumble recovery TD from Brian Boateng that capped a 27-point Tigers' run for a 57-28 bulge with 8:08 left in the contest.
Matt Evans tallied a team-leading 12 tackles for New Hampshire, which saw its 10-game home winning streak snapped.
The Wildcats surrendered 64 points at Cowell Stadium for the first time since a 64-42 loss to Massachusetts on Nov. 19, 1988.
SCOUTING THE TERRIERS: Wofford earned a share of the 2012 Southern Conference Championship, going 8-3 and 6-2 in the SoCon. The Terriers are in the NCAA Championship Playoffs for the fifth time in the last six seasons, securing an at-large bid.
After a strong season, one that started off 5-0 (3-0 SoCon), Wofford College enters the tournament ranked ninth in both polls. Wofford's first loss of the season came against Southern Conference rival Georgia Southern, a disappointing defeat in which the Terriers gave up 265 total yards, all of which were on the ground. A bounce-back win against Appalachian State turned into a two-game winning streak after the Terriers beat The Citadel, 24-21. Wofford then played back-to-back overtimes games: a double OT loss against Samford and an OT victory over Chattanooga that wrapped up its regular season in the SoCon. Wofford concluded its season with a 24-7 setback at South Carolina of the FBS. That game was tied at 7-7 after three quarters. The Terriers are ranked second in the NCAA in rushing offense (348.2) and dead last in passing offense (52.2).
WOFFORD PLAYERS TO WATCH: Senior fullback Eric Breitenstein averages 150.3 rushing yards per game (third in the NCAA). Breitenstein, the two-time Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year, leads the SoCon with 1,653 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. Breitenstein, who is on the Walter Payton Award Watch List, has scored multiple touchdowns in all but five games this season.
Next on the list of touches is junior quarterback Brian Kass, who has attempted only 43 passes compared to his 103 rush attempts. Kass has scampered for five touchdowns, thrown for six and has not surpassed eight attempts through the air in any of the Terriers' games this season.
Wofford's shifty junior halfback Donovan Johnson averages 8.0 yards/carry and is the Terriers' second leading rusher in yards/game (48.3).
Wofford's defense loves to get after the quarterback and force turnovers. The unit has tallied 20 sacks, eight interceptions and 13 forced fumbles (10 recovered). Leading the way in the sacks department are junior linebacker Alvin Scioneaux (5.0) and bookends Tarek Odom (4.5) and Josh Roseborough (3.0).
ROAD WARRIORS: Even though UNH leads the nation with nine consecutive years as an NCAA Championship participant, the Wildcats have not played a home playoff game since 2005. Saturday's tilt at Wofford is the 11th straight playoff road game for the Wildcats, who are 4-6 in that span.
UNH VS SOCON: This is the first meeting between the Wildcats and the Terriers. It is also the 'Cats first-ever game against a South Carolina opponent. New Hampshire is 1-2 all-time against the Southern Conference, with all games being NCAA playoff games. The previous three battles all came in the opening round. Coach McDonnell is 1-0 vs the SoCon, with a 27-23 victory at Georgia Southern in 2004 that marked UNH's first-ever NCAA playoff victory.
ALL-CAA WILDCATS: Eleven members of the 11th-ranked University of New Hampshire football team were feted as members of CAA All-Conference Teams, including First Team recognition for linebacker Matt Evans, wide receiver R.J. Harris, left tackle Seamus O'Neill and defensive tackle Jared Smith.
Running back Nico Steriti, cornerback Dontra Peters and safety Manny Asam were tabbed to the All-CAA Second Team, while tight end Harold Spears, center Mike Coccia, left guard Chris Zarkoskie and place kicker Mike MacArthur earned berths on the Third Team.
Evans, an All-CAA First Teamer for the second straight season, is the league leader in total tackles (115) and solo tackles (77), and the co-captain is ranked second in tackles/game (10.5). Evans, New Hampshire's all-time tackle leader (449) and the 2011 Buck Buchanan Award winner as the national FCS defensive player of the year, was this year's CAA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and, during his sophomore season (2010), was a member of the All-CAA Second Team.
Harris, the CAA's leader in receiving yards/game (89.2) and total receiving yards (981), moves up to the First Team as a sophomore after being selected to the Second Team as a redshirt freshman in 2011. Harris ranks second in the league in receptions (73) and receptions/game (6.6), and his team-leading nine TD catches rank third in the conference.
O'Neill, who garnered All-CAA Third Team honors as a sophomore in 2011, claims a spot on the First Team as a junior. The offensive lineman, who has started 23 consecutive games at left tackle, anchors the front line for an offense ranked second in the CAA in scoring (36.5 points/game), total offense (470.9 yards/game), rushing (234.2 yards/game) and third in passing (236.7 yards/game).
Smith, a first-time All-CAA honoree, leads the Wildcats in tackles for loss (9.0), sacks (4.0), and blocked kicks (three). His two forced fumbles are tied for second in the CAA. The defensive tackle and Senior Bowl Watch List representative has accumulated 36 tackles, including 23 solo, in 10 games –all starts.
Steriti claims All-CAA Second Team honors after rushing 129 times for 870 yards and nine TDs during the regular season. The sophomore running back ranks fifth in the league in rushing yards/game (79.1), and his 5.5 points/game are ranked ninth. He added 13 receptions for 108 yards and a receiving TD and 11 kickoff returns for 167 yards.
Peters, who made the All-CAA Third Team as a running back in 2010, notched a place on the Second Team in his first season as a cornerback. The senior co-captain is tied for third in the league with four interceptions, and his eight pass breakups are good for eighth. In nine games, Peters has notched 49 tackles, a forced fumble and has added 10 kickoff returns for 268 yards, pacing the Wildcats with 26.8 yards/return.
Asam ranked second on the team with 64 total tackles and 47 solo stops while starting all 11 games at strong safety. The junior amassed five tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, an interception, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
Spears, a sophomore, posted 20 receptions for 305 yards and four touchdowns in 11 games, highlighted by a three-catch, 107-yard, two-TD performance in a win at Maine and a six-reception, 94-yard, TD effort in a victory at Georgia State.
Coccia, a sophomore, has started all 23 games of his Wildcat career at center alongside Zarkoskie, a senior co-captain and three-year starter who has logged the start at left guard all 11 games this season.
MacArthur earns All-CAA honors for the third straight season. The Third Team kicker is 11-for-14 in field goal attempts, with a long of 43 yards.
TWO DEEP: UNH has made the most of its two-quarterback system in 2012. Redshirt freshman Sean Goldrich won the job in a tightly-contested three-way battle with senior James Brady and sophomore Andy Vailas during training camp. Goldrich sparkled in his collegiate debut by completing 21 of 31 passes for 193 yards and two TDs in the season-opening win at Holy Cross. Goldrich added a team-high 71 rushing yards and was subsequently named the CAA Rookie of the Week.
When the West Haven, Conn., native was injured on the second play of the second game of the season Sept. 8 at Minnesota, Vailas took control of the offense. In his second start (Sept. 22), the sophomore threw five TD passes and chalked up 336 passing yards in a record-setting 64-61 loss at Old Dominion. Vailas won the CAA Offensive Player of the Week award for his performance in a triumph over No. 8 Delaware on Sept. 29. The Bedford, N.H., native tied a career high with 23 completions in 36 attempts for 315 yards and two TDs.
Goldrich returned to the starting role at Maine Oct. 20 and promptly won his second CAA Rookie of the Week award on the heels of an 18-for-39, 283-yard, four TD performance. Vailas missed that game with an injury.
Since that time, the QBs have split snaps and often shared the backfield. While Goldrich has seen the majority of time under center, Vailas has proven a useful commodity in the running attack; he logged a team-leading eight carries for 54 yards in a win at Rhode Island and set a career high with 102 rushing yards and two TDs in the loss to Towson on Nov. 17. Vailas took the opening snap of the game and raced 77 yards for the team's longest rush of the season. He also owns the team's second-longest carry of the season –a 67-yard scoring scamper at ODU.
It is anyone's guess what offensive coordinator Ryan Carty, a former Delaware quarterback, has up his sleeve for Saturday's playoff game.
IN THE RED: UNH leads the CAA and is third nationally in Red Zone offense. The Wildcats have scored on 46 of 49 attempts (94%) inside the opponent's 20-yard line, with 36 touchdowns and 10 field goals. UNH went a perfect 22-for-22 in home red zone opportunities and has a streak of 23 straight successful conversions inside the 20 since their last failed attempt Oct. 6 at Georgia State.
FRONT AND CENTER: When the Wildcats line up offensively Saturday, they are expected to start the same five offensive linemen they have all season long. Junior left tackle Seamus O'Neill, an All-CAA First Team selection, has started 23 straight games. Left guard Chris Zarkoskie, a three-year starter and senior co-captain, earned a berth on the All-CAA Third Team alongside center Mike Coccia, a fellow All-CAA Third Teamer who has started all 23 games of his UNH career. Right guard Mickey DiLima is a senior and three-year starter, and sophomore Rob Bowman has anchored the right tackle position through 11 games.
This unit has helped the Wildcats boast the league's most balance offense. New Hampshire ranks second in the CAA in total offense (470.9 yards/game) and rushing offense (234.2 yards/game) while boasting the conference's third-leading passing offense (236.7 yards/game).
LOOSE ENDS: The Wildcats will be without the services of All-CAA Third Team tight end Harold Spears for the remainder of the season. Spears, a sophomore who made 20 receptions for 305 yards and four touchdowns, injured his leg in the loss to Towson. Brian Ciccone stepped up in Spears's absence by making his second career catch –and first career TD reception- on an 18-yard hookup with Andy Vailas in the second quarter.
RUN AROUND: The 415 rushing yards surrendered in the regular-season finale vs Towson were the most allowed by the Wildcats since Rhode Island racked up 430 rushing yards in UNH's 49-36 win against URI at Cowell Stadium on Oct. 27, 2007.
GO WEST, YOUNG MAN: Towson sophomore RB Terrance West gashed the Wildcats for 236 yards and two TDs in the Tigers' 64-35 win at Cowell Stadium on Nov. 17. It was the most rushing yards allowed by the UNH defense since West collected a career-high 261 yards and four TDs in Towson's 56-42 win over UNH at Unitas Stadium last season (Nov. 12, 2011).
WHEN YOU'RE 64: UNH has allowed 64 points in two games this season: a 64-61 loss at then No.5 Old Dominion on Sept. 22 and a 64-35 loss to then No. 19/16 Towson in Durham on Nov. 17. You have to go back 98 seasons to find the last time the Wildcats allowed at least that many points in two games in the same season.
Under the guidance of head coach T.D. Sheppard for his one and only season at the helm, the 'Cats started the 1914 campaign with an 83-0 loss at Tufts (Sept. 28, 1914) followed by a 66-0 setback at the hands of Colby (Oct. 3, 1914). Coach Sheppard's only career UNH triumph was a 2-0 victory against Worcester Tech on Oct. 10 of that season, which ended with a 1-6-2 mark.
The following year legendary William Cowell took over as the Wildcats' head coach, a post he held through 1936 –the year the stadium named after him, Cowell Stadium, opened. Cowell notched a career record of 87-68-23. The 87 wins have been topped only by Bill Bowes (175) and Sean McDonnell (104) in UNH history.
Prior to this season, UNH had allowed as many as 64 points once since that fateful 1914 campaign: a 64-42 loss to UMass under coach Bowes on Nov. 19, 1988.
NOT-SO-GRAND FINALE: New Hampshire's loss to Towson not only snapped a 10-game home winning streak, it halted a nine-year stretch of Wildcat victories in a regular-season finale. Maine, which dropped eight of those nine games, was the last team to defeat UNH to end a regular season by virtue of a 31-14 win over the 'Cats in Orono on Nov. 23, 2002.
This marks the first time in the 14 years New Hampshire has ever qualified for the postseason that it ended the regular season with a loss. The Wildcats haven't finished the year with back-to-back defeats since the '02 campaign; Northeastern downed UNH 49-17 a week before the aforementioned loss at Maine.
A LONG DECEMBER: The Wildcats are 1-9 all-time in December games. UNH's lone victory in the month was a 45-20 second-round NCAA playoff victory at Bethune-Cookman on Dec. 4, 2010. UNH has dropped its last two December games: 16-3 at Delaware in the '10 quarterfinals and 26-25 at Montana State in the 2011 second round.
BLOCK PARTY: Steven Thames has been involved in two blocked kicks in his Wildcat career, and they both have resulted in UNH scores. In UNH's loss to Towson on Nov. 17, Thames caught Jared Smith's block of a D.J. Soven field goal attempt on the fly and raced 65 yards for a Wildcat touchdown with no time remaining in the first half to trim the Tigers' lead to 30-28.
In the NCAA second-round playoff matchup between UNH and Montana State on Dec. 3, 2011, Thames blocked a Bobcats' PAT that was scooped up by then senior Anthony Gorrell, who jaunted 86 yards for a two-point conversion.
EVANS LEADS FCS IN CAREER TACKLES: Senior middle linebacker Matt Evans is poised to conclude his illustrious career as the NCAA FCS active leader in both career tackles (449) and solo tackles (256).
•Joey Orlando is currently tied with UNH Hall of Fame RB Stephan Lewis ('02) for sixth place on the school's all-time reception list with 164 catches. With 2,078 career receiving yards, the senior and son of former Houston Oiler Bo Orlando needs 156 yards to move into seventh place all-time. Here is where the senior stacks up against the all-time UNH receiving greats:
AIMING FOR 1,000: R.J. Harris needs a mere 19 receiving yards to become UNH's first 1,000-yard receiver since Mike Boyle in 2008 and only the fifth receiver in school history to reach that plateau.
The sophomore has a streak of 16 straight games with at least one reception. He has tallied 15 consecutive multi-catch contests. The last time Harris was held without a catch was Oct. 22, 2011, in the Colonial Clash victory over Massachusetts at Gillette Stadium. His last single-catch game was in the Oct. 29, 2011, triumph over Rhode Island at Cowell Stadium.
The Odenton, Md., native leads the CAA in receiving yards (981), receiving yards/game (89.2) and his 6.6 catches/game ranks second in the league. He is seven receptions away from the No. 4 spot in school single-season history.
WILDCAT ALUM WINS GREY CUP MVP AWARD: Former UNH running back Chad Kackert was named the most valuable player of the Grey Cup after his Toronto Argonauts defeated the Calgary Stampeders, 35-22, in the 100th edition of the Canadian Football League's championship game on Nov. 25 in Toronto.
Kackert, who played for the Wildcats from 2006-09, rushed 20 times for 133 yards and added eight catches for 62 yards to help Toronto capture its first Grey Cup title since 2004.
The 26-year-old rushed for 2,587 yards (No. 7 all-time) on 462 carries (No. 9 all-time) during his UNH career. As a senior in 2009, Kackert garnered All-CAA Second Team honors and earned the University's Bob Demers 12th Player Award after racking up 780 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs.