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September 8, 2012

New Hampshire overwhelmed by Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS -- New Hampshire knew all about Minnesota's vulnerability to lower-division opponents.

The Wildcats lost their starting quarterback on their second play from scrimmage, though, and wilted against their bigger, faster, stronger foe.

MarQueis Gray threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more by halftime, and Minnesota finally enjoyed an easy victory over an FCS-level team by beating New Hampshire 44-7 on Saturday, the most points in a game by the Golden Gophers in five years.

"A win's a win," said Minnesota coach Jerry Kill.

Gray passed only eight times but completed six for 100 yards and scores to Isaac Fruechte and John Rabe. Gray also gained 109 yards on 17 rushing attempts, including a 75-yard untouched burst through the middle of the line for a momentum-swinging touchdown at the end of the first quarter.

"He's a big guy who can run with the football. You saw that today," Wildcats defensive end Cody Muller said. "We had a couple missed tackles. We've got to keep our heads up."

Donnell Kirkwood ran for 70 yards and a third-quarter score on 17 carries for the Gophers (2-0), who had lost three of their last five games against FCS teams.

They were beaten by FCS national champion North Dakota State last year, South Dakota the season before and North Dakota State in 2007. Even their recent wins over FCS teams were ugly, by one point over North Dakota State in 2006 and by three points over South Dakota State in 2009. But the difference with the Wildcats is their roster isn't loaded with Minnesotans looking to upset the biggest school in the region.

"Great atmosphere. The kids didn't get to take advantage the way they should've," said New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell of the announced crowd of 47,022, boosted by free tickets for freshmen and beer sales for the first time since TCF Bank Stadium opened in 2009.

Backup Andy Vailas was 18 for 34 for 158 yards and an interception for the Wildcats (1-1), who watched freshman Sean Goldrich, the Colonial Athletic Association rookie of the week, separate his left shoulder at the end of a short run. McDonnell said Goldrich will have X-rays and wasn't sure about his status.

This would've been a better matchup in hockey. In fact, Minnesota beat New Hampshire for the national championship in that sport in 2003.

Except for an eight-play, 76-yard drive late in the first quarter capped by a touchdown run by Chris Setian, the Wildcats and their no-huddle offense were overwhelmed by the Gophers. New Hampshire finished with 68 yards rushing on 32 attempts.

"Football is all about momentum. We had it as soon as we scored," Vailas said. "We thought we were going and they cut us on a big one with some missed assignments. It took away a lot of life, but we've got to keep going."

The Wildcats failed on all four of their fourth-down conversions, and Valais was sacked four times in the first half.

New Hampshire punter Mike MacArthur let a slightly high snap slip through his hands and pingpong out of the end zone for an early safety. Then his horse-collar penalty at the end of a strong tackle of Troy Stoudermire on the ensuing kickoff gave the Gophers the ball at the Wildcats' 27-yard line. Rabe, who had two touchdown catches in the first game, was wide open on a fade route that Gray threw perfectly for a 9-0 lead.

Then, immediately after New Hampshire's only score, Gray faked a handoff at his own 25, pivoted forward and sprinted into the end zone past the entire Wildcats defense. Gray scored from 11 yards out in the second quarter on the same play, slipping through a couple of tacklers, to give the Gophers a 30-7 lead.

"We've got to keep our eyes where they belong, and we did not do what we usually do. I was really disappointed," McDonnell said.

That's more points than they scored in any game last season. The final tally of 44 was their highest since a 49-48 loss to Northwestern in 2007.

New Hampshire beat Northwestern on the road in 2006 and actually won five straight games against FBS teams until losing at Pittsburgh in 2010. The Wildcats beat Holy Cross on the road 38-17 last week while rushing for 279 yards and entered the afternoon ranked 12th in the FCS coach poll. They've been to the FCS playoffs eight straight years.

"We had a lot of momentum and felt pretty good about where we were. But they did a good job, and credit to them," linebacker Alan Buzbee said.

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