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Offensive explosion lifts Wildcats to 64-21 first round victory

With sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight battling a foot injury, senior captain Adam Riese received his first start of the season in UNH’s playoff opener and didn’t disappoint.
The UNH offense exploded for a school playoff-record 637 yards and 64 points behind big performances from Riese, sophomore receiver Neil O’Connor and senior running back Dalton Crossan en route to a 64-21 victory over the Lehigh University Mountain Hawks in the first round of the FCS Playoffs on Saturday at Wildcat Stadium.
“We fired on all cylinders today,” head coach Sean McDonnell said after the win. “After their score in the third quarter, I thought we got back to doing what we needed to do on the defensive side and more importantly answered offensively.”
A pair of Trevon Bryant second-half touchdown runs, with a 4-yard touchdown reception for Kieran Presley squeezed between them, ended any hope the Mountain Hawks had of coming back. Bryant took the opening snap of the fourth quarter 48 yards to the house to extend UNH’s lead to 57-21. Bryant finished with a career-high 113 rushing yards and two touchdowns while Crossan accumulated 184 rushing yards and three total touchdowns out of the backfield.
An Evan Gray 25-yard touchdown run on the following possession increased the UNH lead to 64-21, the most points the Wildcats have ever scored in a playoff game.
Riese’s big afternoon included a 16-yard rushing touchdown and a 35-yard touchdown pass to O’Connor in the second quarter as he finished with 273 passing yards and three passing touchdowns. Following Riese’s touchdown run the Wildcats led 29-7. On the next UNH possession, Riese hit O’Connor deep for a 47-yard gain down to the Mountain Hawks’ 1-yard line. On the next play, Crossan added his second rushing touchdown and the ‘Cats led 36-7 with 2:58 remaining in the first half.
“We don’t flinch at all [when Riese comes in],” Crossan said about his senior quarterback. “He’s a great leader. He’s been our best leader this year, on the field and off the field.”
Lehigh’s normal starting quarterback Nick Shafnisky did not start for the Mountain Hawks due to being “sick” according to head coach Andy Coen. Shafnisky replaced Mayes for a few snaps in the first half and was stopped on a fourth down attempt and threw an interception to freshman safety Pop Lacey. Shafinsky also ran in a 3-yard touchdown with 12:35 left in the third quarter to cut the UNH lead to 36-21.
On the Mountain Hawks’ opening possession, senior cornerback Casey DeAndrade intercepted Lehigh quarterback Brad Mayes’ third-down pass to Troy Pelletier. It was DeAndrade’s third interception of the season and the ninth of his Wildcat career. Six plays later Crossan ran in his seventh rushing touchdown of the season from five yards out to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead with 11:20 remaining in the first quarter.
On their next drive, Crossan broke a 43-yard run through the Lehigh secondary to put the ‘Cats at the Mountain Hawks’ nine-yard line. The next play, Riese found Crossan for his fourth receiving touchdown of the season. After a successful two-point conversion, the Wildcats lead was 15-0 with 6:28 left in the first quarter.
The Mountain Hawks got on the board with a 37-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Dom Bragalone, cutting the UNH lead to 22-7 with 7:19 remaining in the first half. Bragalone had 14 yards on six carries until he broke through the UNH defense for the score. Lehigh’s second score came courtesy of a 20-yard touchdown pass from Mayes to Pelletier. The score cut UNH’s lead to 36-14 entering halftime and after Lehigh was able to make cut the deficit to 15, 36-21, UNH scored the final 28 points of the game to put the Mountain Hawks away.
”It was just like any other game,” Riese said. “I didn’t want to think too much [about starting].”
The Wildcats (8-4, 6-2 in CAA) will travel to No. 5 James Madison University next Saturday, Dec. 3, to take on the Dukes in Harrisonburg, Virginia. JMU (10-1, 8-0) finished first in the CAA standings and defeated UNH earlier this season at Wildcat Stadium, 42-39.

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