HAMMOND, La. — Bryan Bennett walked into Saturday night’s playoff game with most of the accolades, but Sean Goldrich walked away with the win.
The sophomore quarterback scored the go-ahead touchdown with 47 seconds left to give the University of New Hampshire football team a 20-17 victory over Southeastern Louisiana in the quarterfinals of the FCS tournament.
The Wildcats finally broke through on their seventh trip to the national quarters after coming up empty on their previous six tries.
“We’ve been knocking on the door for a long time to get to the semifinals,” said coach Sean McDonnell. “This team is a little bit more resilient and found a way.”
UNH advances to meet two-time defending champion North Dakota State in a semifinal game on Friday night (8) in Fargo, N.D.
Goldrich stole the show from the heralded Bennett, the Southland Conference offensive player of the year, with a last-ditch drive that resulted in the winning score.
The Lions had taken a 17-14 lead on a 5-yard TD pass from Bennett to Marquis Fruge with 5:17 left in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats improved to 10-4 with their sixth straight win while No. 4 seed Southeastern finished 11-3 after having a 10-game win streak snapped.
“We knew we were coming down to a hostile environment,” Goldrich said. “We didn’t expect the game to be a blowout by any means. We knew things were going to go wrong. We just had to stay the course.”
Goldrich scored three touchdowns matching his total in the first 13 games. He scored on runs of 32, 1 and 2 yards en route to a career-high 99 yards rushing on 21 attempts.
With the season on the line he engineered an 80-yard, 14-play drive that he kept alive on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and inches.
The Wildcats wanted a touchdown, not a field goal on their last possession.
“We were swinging the bat,” McDonnell said. “We didn’t come down here to go to overtime. We came here to win the game. If we didn’t go for it I would have had a tough time looking these guys in the eyes.”
The Wildcats withstood an early haymaker to take a 14-7 lead at halftime.
The Lions drove the ball down the field with ease on their first possession to take a 7-0 lead on a 2-yard run by Bennett, who completed 6 for 7 passes on the series, including five for first downs.
Southeastern fumbled twice in the early going, but recovered both.
The Wildcats quickly responded on their first possession, capped by a 32-yard TD run by Goldrich, who carried three times on the drive for 48 yards.
UNH took a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter on a 1-yard run by Goldrich. That touchdown was set up by a 17-yard pass play from Goldrich to tight end Harold Spears to the Southeastern 1.
Goldrich rushed for 84 yards on 10 carries in the first half. He also passed for 88 yards as the Wildcats outgained the Lions in the first half, 246-151.
“From my point of view I’m just taking what they give me,” said Goldrich, who also passed for 276 yards. “I don’t really have a game plan. I just go with the flow.”
Southeastern had trouble moving the ball after their first possession. The Lions gained 81 yards on their opening first series, but managed only 70 for the remainder of the first half.
Both teams left points on the field in the first half. Southeastern missed a 37-yard field goal late in the first quarter and the Wildcats had one blocked in the second after getting as close as the Southeastern 10 .
The Lions also squandered two long returns deep into UNH territory. Xavier Roberson returned a kick 71 yards to the Wildcat 29, but Bennett was intercepted by Steven Thames on fourth down.
A 41-yard punt return by Devante Scott gave Southeastern a first down at the UNH 28 on its next possession. Unable to move the ball, the Lions had to settle for a 37-yard field goal attempt by Seth Sebastian that went wide left.
It was only Sebastian’s second miss of the season.
The Wildcats held the ball for more than 15 minutes of the first half which kept the Lions’ explosive offense off the field.
“On both sides of the ball we had to make sure everybody was doing their job,” said co-captain Manny Asam.
UNH squandered a golden opportunity on the opening possession of the second half. The Wildcats drove to the Southeastern 6, but had to settle for a 28-yard field goal attempt by Mike MacArthur that was blocked by Harlan Miller.
Special-teams play was hurting the Wildcats to that point. They gave up two big returns and had two field goals blocked. The Lions capitalized after the second block on a 22-yard field goal by Sebastian that made it 14-10 with 1:13 left in the third quarter.
Southeastern had a first-and-goal at the 1, but lost 4 yards on three plays. The three points were the Lions’ first since the game’s opening possession.
The series lasted 18 plays and took seven minutes off the clock. UNH still led 14-10 after three quarters.
The Wildcats drove to the Southeastern 22 on the ensuing possession, but Goldrich was sacked on second down. His pass on third down was batted down and he threw an incompletion on fourth-and-11 from the Lions’ 29.
UNH missed another glittering chance to score when a 25-yard pass play from GWeoldrich to R.J. Harris gave the Wildcats a first-and-goal at the 3.
But Goldrich was intercepted in the end zone by Marice Sutton on second down.
The Lions drove 80 yards for the go-ahead score on their next possession, capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass from Bennett to Marquis Fruge on fourth-and-goal.
Bennett scrambled away from pressure before spotting Fruge in the back of the end zone to give Southeastern a 17-14 lead with 5:17 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“The things we needed to do,” McDonnell said, “we did for the most part.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services