By GREG LAUDANI
UNH football fans got the entire Halloween experience Saturday at Cowell Stadium. First came two quarters of fear. Then the Wildcats delivered a treat.
New Hampshire erased a 17-point deficit with an inspired second-half comeback to beatCAA rival University of Rhode Island 20-17.
The Wildcats (4-4, 2-3 CAA) fell behind 17-0 at halftime after URI’s Harold Cooper’s 1-yard touchdown plunge as time expired in the second quarter. With that, Rhode Island had every last bit of momentum heading into the locker room. UNH had gained just 76 total yards and hadn’t scored a point. URI, on the other hand, had collected 196 yards and all the points.
When asked postgame about what he said to motivate his team at halftime, UNH head coach Sean McDonnell said he decided not to raise his voice.
“Didn’t yell,” he said. “Didn’t yell. I just appealed to their pride. I told them that people are going to see who you are and really what you are all about right now.”
The Wildcats went on to catch fire in the second half by scoring touchdowns on their first two drives to bring themselves within striking distance, down only 17-14. UNH quarterback Sean Goldrich capped the first drive off with a 52-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Crossan, who scored on a 12-yard run on the very next Wildcats possession. Crossan finished the game with a team-high 114 rushing yards and a touchdown.
UNH finally pulled ahead in the fourth after receiver Kyon Taylor’s fantastic leaping touchdown grab on a 5-yard completion from Goldrich with 5:46 to play. The Goldrich-Taylor hookup capped an impressive seven-play, 84-yard drive.
Goldrich said all he could think about at halftime was how the team could get some points on the board. The quarterback said his touchdown completion to Crossan gave UNH the confidence boost it needed after an uncharacteristic first half.
“We knew what we had to do,” Goldrich said. “We just had to execute, hold onto the ball and we would have a chance to win. And sure enough in the second half we were able to put everything together.”
The UNH quarterback and his offense racked up 306 yards in the second half. The Wildcats’ offense also converted only three first downs in the first half. It responded with 17 in the second half.
Goldrich, who completed 18 of 32 passes for 198 yards and a two scores, said he and his teammates never doubted that they could find a way to win Saturday.
“That’s just who we are as a football team,” Goldrich said. “We’re always confident and we never think we’re out of it. Even if there’s very little time on the clock, we think we’re going to have a chance to come back and win.”
New Hampshire’s fourth and final scoring drive began with 7:15 to play at its own 16. Crossan highlighted the drive with a 30-yard run that set up UNH with a first-and-goal on URI’s 5-yard line. A play later, Goldrich hit Taylor on a crossing pattern for the go-ahead touchdown.
When asked about how the team was able to execute late in the game, Crossan was quick to give credit to the big guys up front.
“The linemen did a tremendous job all game and especially during the second half,” Crossan said. “We weren’t playing well in the first half, but in the second, everybody was on the same page.”
McDonnell said he was proud of the adjustments – physical and mental – that his team made after an underwhelming 30 minutes.
“I thought we just executed better, but it wasn’t all X’s and O’s,” he said. “I think it was about these guys wanted to show people that they’re a good football team and they went out and played that way in the second half.”
UNH’s defense dominated in the second half, keeping the Rams off the scoreboard and surrendering just 29 total yards. The Wildcats also held Rhode Island to only three first down conversions in the half.
Wildcats linebacker Ryan Farrell led the charge with a team-high nine tackles, including a sack and a forced fumble. After the win, Farrell credited complimentary football as a huge lift for the defense’s improvement as the game progressed.
“[Our offense] did a great job scoring points, keeping us off the field and it’s just about heart,” he said. “They said as soon as we got in the locker room that they were going to go down the field and score and put [our defense] in a good position to be successful, and that’s exactly what they did.”
Next weekend the Wildcats welcome the University of Richmond to Cowell Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 7 at 3 p.m.
Richmond currently sits atop of the CAA with a 5-0 record against conference opponents and is riding a seven-game winning streak. On the other hand, UNH (4-4, 2-3 CAA) hopes to keep its playoff hopes alive with another conference victory.
So as it turns out, UNH’s Halloween rally may have been exactly the treat the Wildcats needed to get their season back on track.
By GREG LAUDANI