Vailas, ’Cats shred Devils

DURHAM – The University of New Hampshire football team has been money in home openers the last eight years.

The Wildcats made another deposit Saturday afternoon with a 43-10 win over Central Connecticut State before 7,784 at Cowell Stadium.

They rushed for 331 yards and the defense forced six turnovers as UNH bounced back from last week’s loss at Minnesota.

“We wanted to get back after it as soon as we were in the Minnesota locker room,” said linebacker and senior co-captain Matt Evans, who led the Wildcats with nine tackles Saturday. “We had a good week of preparation and that definitely led to the outcome of the game.”

The Wildcats went 2-1 in the nonconference portion of their schedule. They open CAA play next Saturday at Old Dominion.

“This was a win we needed to get,” UNH coach Sean McDonnell said.

Quarterback Andy Vailas was efficient in his first college start, completing 14 of 20 passes for 122 yards and a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Harold Spears.

Vailas played all but one offensive snap last week after starter Sean Goldrich came out with a shoulder injury.

“The feeling was similar, just playing football,” Vailas said. “It was nice to have a little time this week, and I was able to make the reads and put the ball on the right people.”

Vailas also scored the game’s first TD on an 8-yard run with 4:06 into the game. The sophomore quickly atoned for an early mistake in which he turned the ball over on the Wildcats’ first play from scrimmage.

Central Connecticut recovered his ill-advised backward pass.

“Those are the things that come by playing,” McDonnell said. “You can’t tell anybody what to do until they’re in there doing it.”

The Blue Devils gave the ball back on the next play with sophomore tackle Matt Kaplan coming up with the first of his two fumble recoveries.

“The guard pulled so I played the back block and then they messed up the exchange,” Kaplan said. “I was just in the right place at the right time.”

Given a reprieve, Vailas then engineered a 79-yard scoring drive that he capped by beating the defense to the right pilon on a keeper. The big play in the drive was a 52-yard run by Nico Steriti.

The play originally covered 75 yards and ended with Steriti in the end zone, but it was nullified when wide receiver R.J. Harris was called for an illegal block downfield.

UNH was held to 68 yards on 32 attempts last week against Minnesota.

“Different breed of cat than last week,” McDonnell said, “but I thought our guys did a great job executing the game plan.”

Overall, Steriti rushed for 104 yards on 12 carries before leaving the game after taking a hard hit early in the second half.

Jimmy Owens gained 91 yards on 11 attempts and scored on runs of 5 and 6 yards.

He had a long of 48 yards that helped set up the Vailas to Spears TD.

Chris Setian rushed for 81 yards on 11 carries, including a 28-yard scoring jaunt that made it 37-3 early in the fourth quarter.

Redshirt freshman Jared Allison turned his first career touch into his first career touchdown.

He scored from 30 yards out on a broken play that made it 13-3 late in the first quarter.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to get him on the field some more,” McDonnell said, “because he’s pretty explosive when he gets the ball.”

Mike MacArthur added a 28-yard field goal on the last play of the first half that increased the lead to 23-3.

Defensively, Kaplan had two fumble recoveries and sophomore safety Nick Cefalo had two of the Wildcats’ four interceptions.

“We knew we’d have to be disciplined,” Kaplan said. “The ends did a great job playing the quarterback. Last week we had a lot of mental breakdowns, and this week we were very sound defensively. That was good to see.”

“Us coming up here and turning it over six (times), we have ourselves no chance,” said CCSU coach Jeff McInerney, whose club fell to 0-3.

Central Connecticut’s only touchdown came when David Rose returned a fumble 38 yards with 1:08 remaining.

UNH outgained the Blue Devils 459-234, including 331-121 on the ground.

There were some negatives, however. The Wildcats lost three fumbles and MacArthur missed two extra points.

“We put the ball on the ground a couple times,” McDonnell said, “and we can’t do that next week. We cannot do that. That’s one thing we’ve got to take out of this game: keep the ball in our hands.”