Hammond, LA (SportsNetwork.com) - The postseason of firsts continued for New Hampshire football Saturday night as the Wildcats overcame a late-game deficit to advance to their first FCS semifinals appearance with a 20-17 win over No. 4 seed Southeastern Louisiana in the national quarterfinals.
New Hampshire quarterback Sean Goldrich didn't let a late-game interception and an incredible escape-act touchdown pass from Lions quarterback Bryan Bennett affect his Wildcats' final drive, which led to the game-winning touchdown.
Goldrich ended the game completing 24-of-35 pass attempts for 276 yards and an interception, but led the Wildcats' ground attack with 99 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries, which included the game-winning 1-yard plunge with 47 seconds remaining.
It was the first meeting between Southland Conference champion Southeastern Louisiana and Colonial Athletic Association playoff staple New Hampshire. The Wildcats are now 1-6 all-time in quarterfinals matchups. They advance to face the top-seeded North Dakota State Bison in Fargo on Friday.
New Hampshire kicker Mike MacArthur had his final extra point attempt of the night blocked by the Lions, but the Wildcats defense swallowed up a final hook- and-lateral play by the Lions on a last-ditch effort to win.
Minutes earlier, Bennett gave his Lions the lead on a 5-yard touchdown pass (from roughly his 18-yard line) after escaping multiple tacklers when he found Marquis Fruge' wide open in the back of the end zone. The play was reviewed and the call stood, which gave the Lions a 17-14 lead.
Goldrich then went on the offensive, moving the ball down the field and converting on a season-saving 4th-and-1 quarterback keeper in Lions territory.
New Hampshire outgained Southeastern on the ground, 203 yards to 75, and in total offensive yards, 479-344.
Junior receiver R.J. Harris was Goldrich's favorite target Saturday, catching 11 passes for 110 yards. Senior Justin Mello had five receptions for 84 yards.
Bennett finished the game 25-of-46 passing for 269 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He carried the ball 12 times for 29 yards and a touchdown. He finished the season with 16 rushing touchdowns, leading the Southland Conference.
Southeastern jumped on the scoreboard first on a Bennett 3-yard touchdown run with just under 10 minutes to play in the first quarter. But the rest of the first half belonged to New Hampshire.
Goldrich ran in one of his two first-half touchdowns from 32 yards out, knotting the score at 7-7 just a few minutes after Bennett's touchdown run.
In the second quarter, Goldrich pounded home a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Wildcats the 14-7 lead, which they took into halftime.
Goldrich had 84 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on 10 carries at the midway point.
New Hampshire outgained the Lions by nearly 100 yards offensively in the first half, 246-151.
The loss was the first at home for Southeastern Louisiana, and the first loss since a Sept. 14 defeat to South Dakota State. The Lions had won 10 consecutive games entering the quarterfinal matchup.
The Wildcats have won nine of their last 10 games, including four on the road.
New Hampshire is now 9-9 in its 10th consecutive playoff appearance. The Wildcats are 5-2 versus nationally ranked teams and have won each of the last five matchups with those opponents.