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UNH football team keeps home crowd rocking in 53-23 rout of Colgate

DURHAM – There won’t be another football game at Cowell Stadium, aka The Dungeon, until Oct. 12. So the players, and the students, made the most of yesterday’s home opener against Colgate.

“It’s awesome playing in The Dungeon, and the students, the Cat Pack, they were amazing,” junior tight end Harold Spears said. “We were talking about it on the sidelines. We were looking over and they’re jumping up and down and it was great, especially just to see them grow from my first year here to now, it’s awesome.”

The student section, and the rest of the 8,020 in attendance, had plenty to jump up and down about as the University of New Hampshire posted a commanding 53-23 win. The No. 12/9 Wildcats (1-1) put up 40 points in the first half, had 13 different players gain yards on offense, held a 551-278 advantage in total yards and punted only once, and that came with just 1:25 left in the game.

“It was good to see us execute some of the things in all areas, third down areas, in the red zone,” New Hampshire Coach Sean McDonnell said. “Obviously, we spread the ball around, a lot of different people touched it, a lot of different people ran with it. … We finished drives, we finished plays, that was a big part of it.”

That was different from last week when the Wildcats held a 21-7 fourth-quarter lead against Central Michigan, but couldn’t finish and wound up losing, 24-21, on a last-second field goal.

“I’m proud of the way we responded after a tough loss last weekend,” McDonnell said. “We came back and played the game the way we’re capable of playing.”

Linebackers Shane McNeely (team-high eight tackles) and Akil Anderson spearheaded UNH’s defensive effort with their smart and aggressive play. The Wildcats limited Colgate (0-3) to 3-for-14 on third-down conversions (0-for-5 in the first half) and held quarterback Dylan Finelli to 5-for-18 passing for 46 yards and two interceptions.

While the win was thorough, it does come with asterisks. The Raiders just began offering scholarships this fall, so they have 15 true freshman on scholarship, compared to the 60 total for UNH. Colgate also played without star quarterback Gavin McCarney, the Patriot League’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, who was out with a knee injury.

“It’s obviously a big factor in a lot of things because (McCarney) is a really good player,” McDonnell said. “Finelli went over there and did what he did, but it’s different when the other guy is playing out there, the whole team picks it up.”

Still, New Hampshire was impressive in seizing on its advantages against the Raiders, who are the defending Patriot League champions and were picked to repeat in the league’s preseason coaches poll. The Wildcats put together a 14-play drive to open the game, capping it with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Andy Vailas (19-for-31, 208 yards, two touchdowns) to Spears. And they got the ball right back when McNeely intercepted Finelli’s first pass attempt.

“I took my drop and the ball was thrown right here,” McNeely said. “It was like, ‘Hello, how you doin?’ ”

Three plays later, Vailas hit Spears (five catches, 38 yards) with a 3-yard scoring strike and, just 6:04 into the game, UNH had a 16-0 lead (Vailas completed two two-point conversion passes).

“That’s always big in our offense. Coach is always talking about fast starts,” Spears said. “It doesn’t really matter who scores or how we score, as long as we jump up on ’em early and get points on the board.”

The ’Cats added three more points on a 27-yard field goal from Mike MacArthur before Colgate scored its only points of the first half after UNH redshirt freshman Casey DeAndrade fumbled a punt to give the Raiders the ball on the New Hampshire 43. Finelli directed a five-play drive from there and found the end zone on a 6-yard run with 53 seconds to go in the opening quarter. But the Wildcats wouldn’t let the Raiders savor momentum for even a moment.

UNH’s Sean McCann blocked the extra point after Finelli’s score and then, on the next play from scrimmage, R.J. Harris collected a short pass in the flat and turned it into a 50-yard touchdown to make it 26-6 at the end of the first.

Nico Steriti (11 carries, team-high 88 yards) piled on two rushing touchdown in the second quarter from 5 and 56 yards out to give UNH a massive 40-6 lead by halftime. Colgate scored first in the second half on a 3-yard run from Finelli (15 carries, 54 yards), but UNH answered with touchdown runs from redshirt freshman Dalton Crossan (seven carries, 81 yards in his collegiate debut) and Mike Kelly to keep the game firmly in hand.


∎ Franklin’s Matt Kaplan, a two-year starter at defensive tackle, had two tackles, including a sack, and drew praise from McDonnell after the game. Hopkinton’s Jim Earley, a Bishop Brady graduate, got into the game late and had one carry for 5 yards.

∎ The Wildcats have a bye next weekend. They’ll be back in action on Sept. 28 at Lehigh, another Patriot League opponent.

∎ Harris finished with four catches for 51 yards despite playing with a broken left hand.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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