ORONO, Maine — The University of New Hampshire arrived at Alfond Stadium as a top-10 offense in the Football Championship Subdivision.
On Saturday afternoon, it was instead the Wildcats’ defense that enabled them to retain custody of the Brice-Cowell Musket.
New Hampshire converted two interceptions into touchdowns and held UMaine to seven points over the final 41 minutes to celebrate the 100th meeting between the two programs with a 28-21 Colonial Athletic Association football victory on Morse Field.
The 12th-ranked Wildcats staked the Black Bears to a two-touchdown lead, then scored 21 unanswered points in the second quarter to take the upper hand on a damp Homecoming afternoon.
“They’re not just an offense,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “Everybody kind of thinks that way about them. They played well as a football team. I just don’t ever think they get enough credit for the defense they play.”
New Hampshire (6-2, 4-1 CAA) kept the UMaine offense under wraps after some early struggles and never allowed the Black Bears (2-5, 1-3 CAA) to regain the momentum it had established.
UMaine forced a fumble and came up with an interception, both in the first half, but was not able to cash in either of them.
The Wildcats pulled the rug out from under the Bears during a resurgent second quarter. UNH scored 21 unanswered points in the last 9:09 of the first half to take a 21-14 lead.
UNH came to life after UMaine quarterback Marcus Wasilewski (23-for-44 passing, 254 yards) and tight end Justin Perrilo (7 catches, 68 yds.) hooked up on a 16-yard scoring pass, their second of the half.
The play gave UMaine a 14-0 lead barely four minutes into the second quarter.
“We were up against a great team, put up 14 straight points,” Perillo said. “It was a great feeling to be on top.”
It was all Wildcats after that.
Theys got on the board less than two minutes later when tight end Harold Spears slipped behind the UMaine secondary and went 79 yards on a pass from Sean Goldrich (18-for-39, 283 yds., 4 TDs).
“We blew a coverage,” Cosgrove said. “They hit us with the play-action and we bit up on it. They hit the pop pass and it got out.”
The PAT kick missed.
The Bears missed a big chance on their next snap when wideout Damarr Aultman (7 catches, 66 yds.) ran down the right hash marks into the open, but dropped a pass from Wasilewski that might have gone all the way.
Later, UNH went into its hurry-up offense and raced 81 yards on 12 plays. Goldrich completed three passes of 20 yards or more on the drive, including a 22-yard TD strike to R.J. Harris. A successful conversion toss made it 14-14 with 57 seconds to play in the half.
“Out of nowhere, they started completing passes here and there, got us out of our comfort zone,” said Bears cornerback Kendall James, who blocked a punt in the fourth quarter.
Nigel Jones’ 17-yard return on the ensuing kickoff gave UMaine a spark, but linebacker Alan Buzbee stepped in front of Wasilewski’s first-down pass and returned it 46 yards to the UM 1.
“It was just kind of a miscommunication between me and [Rickey Stevens], where he was going to be on the field,” Wasilewski said.
Three plays later, Goldrich found Chris Setian (17 carries, 76 yds.) on a 5-yard scoring toss to put the Wildcats on top 21-14 at intermission.
“Any type of turnover is a big momentum swing, especially going into the half, especially defensively after being down 14-0,” Buzbee said. “I thought that was a big turning point.”
UNH extended its lead late in the third quarter after a turnover. Steve Thames picked off a pass that had gone off the hands of UMaine receiver Art Williams at the UM 18.
Four plays later, Goldrich hit Spears on a 6-yard slant to put the Wildcats on top 28-14 with 2:44 to play in the quarter.
UMaine had few scoring chances in the second half, although freshman Sean Decloux missed wide left on a 45-yard field goal on the Bears’ first possession of the second half.
The hosts finally got on the board again when Wasilewski found Williams on a 23-yard slant route to make it 28-21 with 14:22 left.
UNH refused to let UMaine get its groove back.
Despite their offensive struggles, the Bears kept their hopes alive when James sliced in from the left side and blocked Mike MacArthur’s 39-yard field-goal attempt with 3:21 to play.
However, UMaine went three-and-out, punted late and UNH let Setian’s tough running run out the clock.
Wasilewski was sacked only once, but faced constant pressure from the UNH pass rush.
“They brought some different kind of games and blitzes up front,” said Wasilewski, who praised the efforts of his offensive line.
Donte Dennis notched 10 tackles, including a sack, and recovered a fumble to lead the Bears’ defense. Troy Eastman made nine tackles, while Sherrod Baltimore had an interception.
Matt Evans’ 11 tackles paced UNH and Jared Smith made nine.
UMaine grabbed a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter when Perillo outmaneuvered linebacker Matt Evans in the end zone for a 15-yard TD reception of a Wasilewski pass.
“I reached over his back and caught it, pulled it over,” Perillo said.