DURHAM, N.H. -- The No. 12/9 University of New Hampshire football team racked up 40 points in the first half, including 26 in the first quarter, to cruise to Saturday afternoon's 53-23 victory over Colgate in the Wildcats' home opener at Cowell Stadium.
UNH's dominant first half included 336 total yards of offense, 14 first downs, five scoring drives and 40 points. Overall, the Wildcats finished with 551 total yards balanced by 288 yards in the air and 263 yards rushing. On the ground, junior tailback Nico Steriti (Toms River, N.J.) rushed for 88 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 11 carries, while redshirt freshman Dalton Crossan (Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y.) added 81 yards on just seven carries (11.6 yards/carry). In the air, junior Andy Vailas (Bedford, N.H.) was 19 of 31 for 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Sophomore Sean Goldrich (West Haven, Conn.) was an efficient 5-for-6 for 80 yards and a touchdown. Justin Mello (Dartmouth, Mass.) led all receivers and notched his second straight 100-plus yard game with five catches for 101 yards. Harold Spears (Perkasie, Pa.) pulled down five catches for 38 yards and two TDs.
New Hampshire (1-1, 0-0 CAA) took the opening kickoff and marched down the field with a 14-play, 79-yard drive that was capped off by a 12-yard pass from Vailas to Spears with 10:33 left in the first. UNH also converted a two-point attempt as Steriti pulled in a Vailas pass to give the 'Cats an 8-0 lead.
Trailing 8-0, Colgate (0-3, 0-0 Patriot League) turned the ball over on its second play from scrimmage. Dylan Finelli's pass was intercepted by Shane McNeely (Whitehall, Pa.) and returned 31 yards to the 4-yard line. Just three plays later, Vailas and Spears connected again for a two-yard TD strike. The duo connected just moments later for a two-point conversation to extend the lead to 16-0 with 8:53 left in the first.
The Wildcats extended their lead to 19-0 on a 27-yard field goal from Mike MacArthur (North Hampton, N.H.) with 5:17 left in the first. UNH forced a Colgate punt on the next possession, but the return attempt was fumbled setting up the Raiders' first scoring drive of the day. After recovering the fumble at the 43, Colgate went five plays for 43 yards capped off by a six-yard Finelli TD rush. Sean McCann (Avon Lake, Ohio) blocked the Colgate PAT attempt to keep the game at 19-6. UNH closed out first-quarter scoring as backup quarterback Goldrich entered the game for the next drive and promptly connected with R.J. Harris (Odenton, Md.) for a 50-yard TD strike to make it 26-6.
UNH added a pair of second-quarter strikes to extend its lead to 40-6. Both scores came on runs by Steriti. He found the end zone on a five-yard run at 11:34 that capped off a seven-play, 30-yard drive. The second came when he broke a third-and-1 run for 56 yards at 3:52. The Wildcats took a 40-6 lead into the half. New Hampshire's 40 points were the most tallied in the first half since the 'Cats put up 40 points in the opening half at Old Dominion on Sept. 22, 2012.
Things settled down during the second half as the Wildcats kept to the ground. Colgate cut into the UNH lead with an 11-play, 68-yard drive that was capped off by a three-yard Finelli run and a two-point Finelli conversion to make it 40-14 with 2:02 left in the third.
New Hampshire answered as Crossan scored on an 11-yard run with 52 seconds left in the third to make it 47-14.
Midway through the fourth quarter New Hampshire extended the lead to 53-14 as Mike Kelly (Merrimack, N.H.) ran it in from one yard out to complete a 10-play, 80-yard drive.
Colgate would score the final nine points of the game as it registered a safety with 5:50 remaining, and Dan Cason pulled down the game's final touchdown on a 17-yard pass from Finelli with 3:24 left to close out scoring.
New Hampshire has an open week next weekend before returning to action Sept. 28 at Lehigh University. Game time is 12:30 p.m. at Goodman Stadium in Bethlehem, Pa.
UNH returns home on Oct. 12 against Rhode Island. Game time at Cowell Stadium is 12 p.m. Tickets for the Homecoming game are available online at www.unhwildcats.com or call (603) 862-4000, extension 5.