HAMMOND, La. -- Sean Goldrich (West Haven, Conn.) capped a 14-play, 80-yard drive with a two-yard TD run to lead the 15th-ranked UNH football team to a 20-17 victory against No. 7 Southeastern Louisiana in Saturday nights' FCS quarterfinal at Strawberry Stadium.
UNH extended its win streak to six games to improve to 10-4 overall and advance to the FCS semifinals for the first time in program history. The Wildcats travel to play top-seeded North Dakota State University in a Dec. 20 semifinal (8 p.m. Eastern) on ESPN2. Southeastern, the tourney No. 4 seed that entered the game with 10 consecutive wins, ends its year at 11-3.
Goldrich finished with career highs in carries (21), rushing yards (99) and rushing TDs (three). He also completed a career-high 24 passes on 35 attempts for 276 yards.
R.J. Harris (Odenton, Md.) had 11 catches for 110 yards and Justin Mello (Dartmouth, Mass.) had five catches for 84 yards. Mello eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards for the season with that total.
Nico Steriti (Toms River, N.J.) eclipsed 1,000 yards in his 14 carry, 75-yard performance.
The defense, which yielded just 17 points to a Southeastern team that entered the game ranked No. 7 in the nation in scoring offense (40.1 points per game), was led by Manny Asam (Bloomfield, N.J.) and Akil Anderson (Morristown, N.J.) with 10 tackles apiece. Asam was also credited with two pass breakups while Anderson had 2.5 tackles for a loss and three breakups.
Southeastern took a 17-14 lead on an improbable 4th-and-goal five-yard touchdown pass with 5:17 left in the fourth quarter. SLU quarterback Bryan Bennett escaped the grasp of Cody Muller (Telford, Pa.), rolled to the right and also eluded the rush of Jullian Turner (East Pittsburgh, Pa.) before firing a strike to Marquis Fruge' in the back right corner of the end zone.
UNH began its game-winning drive from its 20 with 5:12 on the clock. Goldrich hit Steriti on a drag route across the middle for a 12-yard gain. On 1st-and-10 from the UNH 44 with four minutes to go, Goldrich's four-yard carry was followed by a 13-yard completion to Harris to advance the ball to the SLU 39 with 3:11 left. Following an incompletion, another Goldrich to Harris connection gave the 'Cats first down at the 24. Jared Allison (Cliffwood, N.J.) was sacked on a running back option pass. Goldrich's 10-yard keeper made it 3rd-and-9 and then on a QB draw Goldrich came up inches short to set up 4th-and-inches. The signal caller set up in the shotgun, then came up to the line of scrimmage as if to communicate with the lineman, but instead he took a snap and gained six yards to set up 1st-and-goal at the 9. After a seven-yard pass to Jimmy Giansante (Jefferson Hills, Pa.), Goldrich remained in the shotgun but immediately ran towards the left tackle and ran into the end zone to give New Hampshire a 20-17 lead with 47 seconds remaining. The PAT was blocked by Javari Nichols to keep the margin at three points.
Southeastern advanced the ball 24 yards on three plays to set up 1st-and-10 from the 50.with 15 seconds to play. Anderson broke up a pass and then Asam's tackle limited the Lions to a seven-yard game that made it 3rd & 3 from the UNH 43 with two seconds on the clock. Sutton was stopped by Asam on the left sideline for an eight-yard gain to end the game.
Bennett finished the game 25 of 46 for 269 yards; he also had a team-high 29 rushing yards on 12 carries. Isaiah Kepley was the top target with four catches for 46 yards.
Back in the first quarter, Southeastern recovered two fumbles to maintain possession and took, a 7-0 lead on Bennett's two-yard TD run at 9:58. It marked the first time UNH did not score the game's first points since Nov. 2 at William & Mary.
The Wildcats immediately responded with an eight-play, 76-yard touchdown drive to tie the score, 7-7, at 6:20; seven of the eight plays were on the ground and covered 69 yards. On 1st-and-10 from the UNH 24, Goldrich pulled down the ball and gained 17 yards. Setian then advanced the ball 14 yards to the Southeastern 45 on a pair of seven-yard runs. Four plays later, Goldrich scampered 32 yards when he faked the handoff, ran around the right tackle and raced down the middle of the field to the end zone.
SLU's Xavier Roberson returned the ensuing kickoff 71 yards to the UNH 29, but the Wildcats' defense did not allow a first down as Anderson batted down a 3rd-down pass and Steven Thames (Fort Washington, Md.) got the ball back for the 'Cats with an interception at the UNH 8.
New Hampshire was forced to a 3-and-out, however, and Devante Scott's 41-yard punt return gave the Lions possession at the UNH 28. Following a hold against the SLU offense, a stout UNH defense forced the Lions to attempt a 37-yard field goal, but Seth Sebastian pulled the kick wide left with 43 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The 'Cats needed just 1:57 to march 80 yards in eight plays to take a 14-7 lead at 13:46 of the second quarter. The drive began with Harris catching a lateral on the left side and running 24 yards down the sideline to the UNH 44. Two plays later, Goldrich hit Steriti on a curl pattern out of the backfield for a 16-yards gain to the SLU 37. Three plays later, the sophomore QB found Harold Spears (Perkasie, Pa.) over the middle for a 17-yard gain to set up 1st-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Following an incomplete pass, Goldrich found a gap on the right side of the line for his second rushing TD of the game.
UNH's defense force another 3-and-out by the Lions and New Hampshire gained possession at its 17-yard line with 12:18 remaining in the first half. A Goldrich-to-Harris completion of 22 yards advanced the ball to the UNH 45, then Goldrich had consecutive rushes of 13 and 11 yards to give the Wildcats a 1st-and-10 at the Southeastern 31. UNH overcame a holding call on a 17-yard pass play to Mello. Steriti gained nine yards on first down to advance the ball to the SLU 10, but he was held to no gain on the next two runs and a 27-yard field goal attempt by Mike MacArthur (North Hampton, N.H.) was blocked by Cqulin Hubert to keep the score 14-7 at 5:46. The 'Cats came away with no points on the 15-play, 73-yard drive that consumed 6:32 off the clock.
Southeastern advanced the ball to the SLU 44, but went backwards the next three plays and was forced to punt. The home team got the ball back at its 27 with 1:24 on the clock and had 1st-and-10 at the UNH 39 with 46 seconds remaining. Bennett completed a pass to Jeff Smiley, but Asam had tight coverage and immediately made the tackle to limit the gain to four yards, setting up 4th-and-2. The Lions did not opt to use a timeout and Asam broke up Bennett's pass intended for Smiley to preserve UNH's 14-7 lead heading into halftime.
UNH opened the third quarter with possession and utilized a mix of run and pass – five plays each – to set up 1st-and-10 at the SLU 11 following a 4th-and-2 conversion with an 11-yard pass to Allison. MacArthur's 28-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Harlan Miller to end the 15-play, 64-yard drive at 8:13 of the third quarter.
Southeastern answered with an 18-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in Sebastian's 22-yard field goal that lifted the Lions within 14-10 at 1:13 of the third quarter. SLU had advanced the ball to the UNH 1, but the defense forced the field goal attempt when Anderson stopped Bennett for no gain, Turner dropped Rasheed Harrell for a one-yard loss and the combination of Anderson and Matt Kaplan (Franklin, N.H.) pushed Harrell back to the UNH 5.
New Hampshire's opening drive of the fourth quarter began at the UNH 43 with 12:24 to play. On 2nd-and-10, SLU's Marice Sutton tipped the ball in the air, but Steriti caught the ball and turned it into a seven-yard gain. On the next play, Steriti surpassed 1,000 rushing yards for the season on a 22-yard gain to the SLU 28. The 'Cats kept momentum on a play that is in the box score as simply a 25-yard pass from Goldrich to Harris, but started with a toss right to Steriti and a long lateral across the field to Goldrich. The Lions kept the 'Cats from scoring, however, as Goldrich overthrew Harris on a fade route to the left side on first down and then Sutton intercepted the pass on the same play on second down.
Southeastern then went 80 yards in 14 plays to regain the lead, 17-14, by converting on fourth-and-goal.
UNH outgained the hosts 479-344 and limited the Lions' ground game to 75 yards.