‘Cats defeat Delaware, clinch at least share of CAA title

By Josh Sullivan, Sports Editor

 Jacqui Cohen/Contributor  RJ Harris was held to fewer than 100 yards receiving for the first time since Oct. 4.

Jacqui Cohen/Contributor
RJ Harris was held to fewer than 100 yards receiving for the first time since Oct. 4.

Tight end Harold Spears and quarterback Sean Goldrich had career days on Saturday afternoon as UNH won its ninth game in a row by defeating Delaware 43-14 as they clinched at least a share of the CAA championship.

Head coach Sean McDonnell and his coaching staff threw everything they possibly could at the Blue Hens defense, using a variety of plays that rotated different players into different roles. Between direct snaps, audibles and rotating Goldrich and back-up quarterback Andy Vailas, the team kept Delaware guessing where they’d be going with the ball.

“Andy Vailas is a hell of a football player, and unfortunately for Vailas, we can only snap the ball to one quarterback at a time,” McDonnell said. “We’re going to utilize personnel the best we can; if we have to run it, we’ll run it. If we have to pass it, we’ll pass it.”

To start the scoring, Goldrich connected with senior tight end Spears over the middle for a big first down around the seven-minute mark of the first quarter and followed that up with a 24-yard pass to wide receiver Jimmy Giansante. After sending in Vailas to take the snap, the offense audibled and Harris came off the line of scrimmage and lined up next to the quarterback. Harris took the snap and ran the keeper along the sideline to bring the Wildcats nine yards away from the endzone. After a false start penalty brought back what almost definitely would have been a touchdown, kicker Christian Breda hit a 26-yard field goal to put the UNH in the lead 3-0.

UNH recovered a fumble at the Delaware 27-yard line as running back Kareem Williams let it loose after being hit. Vailas came into the game once again and a fake snap to wide receiver Allison resulted in him connecting with Vailas on a quarterback throwback for a first down. Nico Steriti muscled his way to UNH’s first touchdown of the game and the Wildcats found themselves on top 10-0.

The Blue Hens struggled to generate any offensive productivity early on, partly due to shutdown pass coverage by Casey DeAndrade and partly due to a stellar defensive line that contained the sophomore tandem of Jalen Randolph and Wes Hills.

Running back Jimmy Owens broke through for two runs good for first downs while Spears and Giansante helped put the ‘Cats in scoring territory. Harris, the Wildcats most productive wideout this year, didn’t see the ball until there was 8:10 left in the first half when he caught a 20-yard pass that  put UNH inside the red zone. Goldrich connected with Spears on a 12-yard touchdown pass that capped off an 83-yard drive and made it 17-0 ‘Cats.

“Our game plan going into today was to shut down Harris and I think we did a pretty good job of that,” Delaware head coach Dave Brock.

Despite taking away Harris as an option, Brock’s defense couldn’t shut down the rest of the offense. Giansante had 48 yards on Four catches, Owens had 76 yards on eight carries and the most dominant performance of the day went to Spears had 108 on eight catches and three touchdowns, proving that he’s a vital part of this explosive offense.

The Blue Hens got on the board at 4:34, when running back Wes Hills broke free on 4th-and-1 to take it 45 yards to the end zone. The touchdown was the longest run UNH’s defense has given up all year.

Delaware got the ball back after Justin Watson recovered a surprise onside kick. After starting the drive on the UNH 42, Hurley connected with Michael Johnson twice in a row, once on a 22-yard pass and another via hand-off for Johnson’s 7-yard carry. A pass in the end zone dropped by tight end Nick Boyle set up an opportunity to bring the game to within a touchdown, but kicker Garrett Greenway hit the upright and the Wildcats got the ball on the 24-yard-line.

Freshman running back Donald Goodrich took a pass from Goldrich good for a first down, but fumbled on the way down to the ground. Delaware took over the ball with under a minute remaining in the half, but safety Keith Parkinson picked off Hurley at the 21-yard-line and the Wildcats headed into halftime up by 10.

The Wildcats went to work right away after getting the ball to start the second half. Goldrich connected with Harris over the middle for a 20-yard pick up, and Vailas escaped pressure out of the pocket and picked up 18 yards to bring the ‘Cats to the Delaware 32-yard-line. On 4th-and-6, Goldrich ran a keeper 16 yards along the left sideline, then hit a sliding Spears in the endzone for a touchdown on the next play. Following an unsuccessful two-point conversion with 10:48 remaining in the third quarter, UNH led Delaware 23-7.

Wes Hills continued his solid performance by breaking loose up the middle on a 13-yard gain good for a Delaware first down and bringing them to the 50-yard line. Hurley ran a play-action fake that ended with a 48-yard toss to Jerel Harrison. Hills got the handoff and ran it in from there, bringing Delaware back within nine points.

The Wildcats answered with back-to-back runs by Owens and a catch by Giansante. From the 20-yard-line, Spears snagged a shuffle pass from Goldrich that was two steps behind him and ran in in for the touchdown, his career-high third touchdown of the game. The Wildcats led 30-14 after three quarters.

Defensively, the Wildcats capitalized on opportunities presented to them through Delaware’s turnovers.

A forced fumble from Shane McNeely was recovered by DeAndrade and the ‘Cats went to work again. A 15-yard catch from Spears and a pass interference call drawn by Giansante set up an Owens touchdown run to make it 37-14.

The next Delaware possession it was defensive end Julian Turner forcing and recovering a fumble to get the UNH offense back on the field. Goldrich connected with Harris for his first touchdown of the game to make it 43-14.

Goldrich was pleased at how his teammates stepped up when the offense called upon them.

“There’s about 10 guys on this team who I wouldn’t trade for anyone in the world,” he said. “We’ve got threes on this team who could start almost anywhere else.”

Goldrich finished the game 24-for-33 and threw a career high four touchdown passes. The win — its ninth in a row — gives UNH its longest in-season winning streak of all time. UNH’s partial ownership of the CAA championship is its second in history and its 16th conference title overall.