Nov. 29, 2008
By Jeff Honza
CARBONDALE, Ill. - New Hampshire (10-2) scored 21 points on special teams en route to beating Southern Illinois University (9-3), 29-20, earlier today in the first round of the NCAA Division I Football Championship.
UNH, which handed SIU its first home loss of the season and snapped the Salukis' seven-game winning streak, advance to face the winner of Northern Iowa and Maine.
The Wildcats returned five kickoffs for 199 yards, averaging nearly 40 yards (39.8) per return. They also blocked a punt and put up 15 points on a perfect 5-of-5 field goals by Tom Bishop.
"Special teams was probably the difference in the game," said SIU head coach Dale Lennon. "Those were points that were directly from kickoff returns that set up field goal opportunities. The blocked punt was also very disappointing."
UNH held a 16-13 lead at halftime and scored 17 unanswered points, beginning with Bishop's 28-yard field goal with 2:34 left to play in the second quarter.
R.J. Toman's 2-yard touchdown run followed to give the Wildcats a three-point edge at intermission.
UNH added 10 more points in the last three minutes of the third quarter. Bishop made a 33-yard field goal (2:07) and John Clements returned Ryan McGuinness's blocked punt 26 yards for a touchdown (:34) to give the Wildcats their biggest lead of the game (26-13).
"The two momentum swings were the blocked punt and touchdown right before the half," said Lennon. "They definitely had some things going in their direction. You need to make plays at certain points in time and they did."
SIU had its chances, but couldn't capitalize as Kyle Dougherty missed field goals (47 yards, 46 yards) on two-straight possessions in the third quarter when the Dawgs trailed by three. As a result, SIU came up empty in that stanza for the eighth time this season.
SIU's other touchdown was set up on a wild play. Toman's pass hit umpire Ernie Hamilton and Kendrick Young came up with an interception off the deflection at the UNH 14. Two plays later, Dieker scored on a 1-yard run with 21 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
SIU, which also turned the ball over three times, finished with 336 yards of total offense. The Salukis outrushed the Wildcats, 185-158, while UNH held a 257-169 advantage through the air.
Dieker completed 18-of-26 passes for 163 yards and one touchdown and Larry Warner ran for 93 yards on 21 carries to lead the Saluki offense.
Meanwhile, Toman completed 16-of-32 passes for 257 yards and scored the Wildcats' only touchdown on a 2-yard run in the second quarter. Mike Boyle followed with seven catches for 131 yards as part of a UNH offense that 384 total yards. The Wildcats also four turnovers.
UNH was led by Dino Vasso's 10 takedowns.
SIU ended its 2008 season at 9-3, with 13 seniors playing in their final game at McAndrew Stadium today.
"I told the team it's been an honor and a privilege to be their coach this season," said Lennon. "I thanked them and let the seniors know they left an incredible legacy here to this football program which I hope to build on."