By ANDREW YOURELL
Cowell Stadium’s final game may not have ended the way the Wildcats hoped for, but there was no denying it was an exciting farewell to the stadium.
“Good football game. Exciting,” UNH head coach Sean McDonnell said after his team’s heartbreaking 27-20 loss to the Colgate Red Raiders in the first round of the FCS playoffs on Saturday, Nov. 28. “Give a lot of credit to the way Colgate played on the road. Came in here, and I thought they played downhill.”
Colgate appeared to have the game well in hand as the fourth quarter began. The Red Raiders had kept the Wildcats out of the end zone in the first half, then added to their 12-6 lead on the first drive of the second half. After a short UNH offensive drive, Colgate got the ball back and chewed through the rest of the quarter on a 10 minute, 27 second drive. The drive ended with James Holland’s fourth rushing touchdown of the game, which gave Colgate a 27-6 lead with 12:16 left to play.
“It was kind of our typical game,” Colgate coach Dan Hunt said.
Despite the 21-point deficit, the Wildcats wouldn’t quit. UNH got the ball back and senior quarterback Sean Goldrich jumpstarted an offensive unit that managed only six plays in the entire third quarter and was held to a pair of first half field goals, despite 200 yards of offense.
Goldrich ran the Wildcats’ offense with precise passes behind an offensive line that kept Red Raider pass rushers at bay. Goldrich completed six of eight passes on the drive, and scrambled for additional yardage as the ‘Cats marched down the field. His final pass of the drive was a 12-yard scoring strike to Rory Donovan that brought UNH to within two scores. The drive covered 74 yards in 10 plays, but only ran 2:30 off the clock and allowed UNH to retain all of its timeouts.
UNH’s onside kick attempt failed, but the defense stifled Colgate’s offense, forcing the Red Raiders’ first three-and-out of the game.
“We never counted ourselves out,” senior linebacker Akil Anderson said. “We were going to keep fighting, we were going to stay the course. That’s the team we are.”
Facing another long field, Goldrich’s unit stepped up once again. The offensive captain orchestrated another terrific drive, getting down to the 18-yard line before Colgate could force a third down stop.
On fourth-and-2 Goldrich took the shotgun snap, but couldn’t find an open receiver. He scrambled to the UNH sidelines, then turned on the jets and raced in for the score, making it 27-20. This time, the drive spanned 90 yards in 10 plays, and only ran off 2:26.
UNH kicked deep with 5:30 left on the clock and all of its timeouts. After burning the first timeout, the Wildcats got a much-needed lift. Defensive back Dougie Moss came up against the run and forced a fumble that defensive end Cam Shorey fell on.
“We had the ball, 27-20, with four-and-a-half minutes to go in the game after creating a turnover,” McDonnell said. “Couldn’t ask for anything better.”
But Colgate wasn’t ready to concede a storybook ending. A Goldrich pass to Kyon Taylor was jarred loose by a defender’s hit, and Colgate’s Tyler Castillo grabbed the ball from the air for an interception.
Colgate ran out most of the remaining time before returning the ball to UNH deep inside the Wildcats’ territory with 29 ticks left on the clock. UNH was unable to muster one last rally, and the Red Raiders sealed the win by bouncing on a fumble after a failed hook-and-ladder play.
The game marked the final time the Wildcats would play at Cowell Stadium, which will give way to Wildcat Stadium for the 2016 season. The playoff loss marked the 12th consecutive year that the Wildcats have made the FCS playoffs, a mark they’ll look to extend in the new stadium.
Goldrich finished with 41 completions on 56 pass attempts, both career-highs, for a season-high 309 yards. He also chipped in 44 yards on the ground. Dalton Crossan led UNH rushers with 45 yards, and Taylor became the first receiver this season to tally 100-yards receiving after hauling in 11 passes for 128 yards.
“Just can’t finish it,” McDonnell said. “That’s probably what hurts the most. You know you’re good enough, just couldn’t put your thumb on it and get it done today.”
Late rally falls short
By ANDREW YOURELL