ORONO, Maine — Alfond Stadium was rocking with the largest, most enthusiastic crowd in recent memory Saturday afternoon.
The fans were treated to an entertaining football game, but most went home shivering and disappointed.
The University of New Hampshire scored twice in a span of four minutes late in the fourth quarter, finally finishing off UMaine for a 41-27 Football Championship Subdivision second-round victory on Morse Field.
“I can’t tell you enough what it’s like to have a Maine-New Hampshire football game in December up here,” said UNH head coach Sean McDonnell. “Everything about it was awesome. It’s great for New England football.”
Fifteenth-ranked UNH (9-4), making its 10th straight NCAA postseason appearance, advances to the national quarterfinals. The No. 8 Black Bears finish the season at 10-3.
The Wildcats also beat UMaine 24-3 on Nov. 23 at Durham, N.H.
“That’s a very good football team that’s gaining momentum, confidence and, really, was the better team out on the football field today,” conceded UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove.
Despite cold temperatures and a chilling wind, 7,992 fans — including 2,383 students — turned out for the first home playoff game in UMaine history.
UNH won with dynamic offense and disruptive defense.
Quarterback Sean Goldrich (16-for-27) threw for 291 yards and three touchdowns as UNH kept UMaine on its heels. The Wildcats gained 495 yards, 315 through the air.
Wideout Justin Mello (5 catches, 91 yards, 2 TDs) and halfback Nico Steriti (14 carries, 74 yds.) complemented Goldrich, who was not intercepted. UNH ran 21 plays that netted at least 11 yards.
The Wildcats were 7-for-14 on third down against the Bears, who tried to maintain an attacking defensive philosophy against the wide-open UNH offense.
“You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” Cosgrove said. “You can sit around and play zone and be conservative, or you can take risks and take your chances. We’ve been aggressive all year long.”
UMaine could not establish much offensive continuity. UNH pressured quarterback Marcus Wasilewski (21-for-39, 229 yards, 2 TDs) and blanketed his receivers.
The Bears converted only three of 13 third-down plays.
“They did a couple things to take away things that we do best in our offense,” said Wasilewski, who also ran 15 times for 71 yards.
“That’s [third down] where teams really struggle with them. That’s a situation you want to avoid at all costs,” he added.
With UNH up 27-20 late in the third quarter, the Bears had two chances to get the equalizer.
On the first drive, a second-down sack of Wasilewski by Sean McCann at the UM 39 helped snuff out a drive. On its next possession, UMaine drove to the UNH 38 before stalling out and punted again.
The Wildcats, who took over on their own 13, converted a third-and-13 when Goldrich found R.J. Harris (6 catches, 85 yds.) for a 15-yard pickup.
“[That] broke our backs,” Cosgrove said.
Six plays later, Chris Setian’s 12-yard TD run dimmed the Bears’ hopes (34-20) with 6:47 to play.
UMaine again relinquished the ball on downs and UNH responded with the clinching score, a 7-yard run by Setian (10 carries, 54 yds, 2 TDs) with 2:42 left.
“I thought late in the game we wore them down a little bit,” McDonnell said.
UNH opened the second half with a 51-yard drive. It featured a 23-yard, direct-snap halfback pass from Steriti to tight end Harold Spears that set up Goldrich’s 3-yard scoring toss to Mello.
UMaine kept within striking distance (27-20) on Sean Decloux’s 28-yard field goal midway through the third.
Goldrich passed for 222 yards and two scores in the half, while UMaine managed only 66 passing yards. However, the Bears ended the first half with a quick, 60-yard march.
It culminated in a 9-yard TD toss from Wasilewski to John Ebeling and Decloux’s PAT made it a 20-17.
The Wildcats took a 3-0 lead on Mike MacArthur’s 43-yard field goal.
Damarr Aultman fielded the ensuing kickoff at his own 12-yard line, burst up the left side, then cut across to the right sideline on his way to an 88-yard touchdown.
“The guys up front did a good job holding their blocks and it just hit and everything worked the way it should go,” Aultman said.
Decloux’s PAT put the Bears on top 7-3.
UNH answered three plays later. Mello got open on the right side, caught Goldrich’s pass, eluded Bears safety Khari Al-Mateen and completed a 57-yard scoring hookup.
UMaine tied it at 9:13 of the second quarter on Decloux’s 21-yard field goal, but UNH quickly regained the lead.
Jimmy Giansante got behind the secondary and was unabated on a 48-yard TD throw from Goldrich that make it 17-10.
MacArthur’s 22-yard field goal gave UNH a 20-10 lead with 3:25 left in the half shortly after Steven Thames picked off Wasilewski at the UM 42.