The Raider roller coaster ride came to a rough end.
The football team’s wild season, filled with improbable wins and peppered with a few stunning losses, with seemingly every game coming down to the final play, came to a sudden halt last Saturday at the hands of the number one ranked team in the nation. The high-powered New Hampshire Wildcats squelched any possibility of a sequel to the magical Raider playoff run of 2003 with an emphatic 55-21 win over Colgate in the first round of the Division I-AA playoffs in Durham, N.H.
It was a sour endingto the successful collegiate careersof the Class of 2006, the winningest group in Colgate history.
“I definitely would have liked for our class to go out on a better note than we didand to have represented this program and this coaching staff in a much better light,” senior defensive tackle Jeff Galletly said.
Galletly and the Raider defense could not slow down – much less stop – New Hampshire quarterback Ricky Santos, who compiled more than 400 yards of total offense and four touchdowns on the afternoon. Santos, who had thrown for 3,200 yards and 33 touchdowns coming into the game, hurt the Raiders just as much with his feet as he did with his arm, racking up 165 yards rushing to go with his 252 yards through the air. And he didn’t even play in the game’s last 12 minutes.
“Their quarterback ran the show,” Galletly said. “He played hard, he was tough and he was very skilled in terms of throwing and decision making. When you have a quarterback like that, a few outstanding receivers and a tough running back, along with a strong, athletic offensive line, the defense is really going to have to play extremely well, which we didn’t do.”
After going three and out on their first possession, the Wildcats rattled off a six-play, 66-yard drive into the end zone the next time they got the ball. Later in the first quarter, Michael Boyle returned a Colgate punt 73 yards to give his team a two-touchdown lead.
Amid early winter flurries, the UNH lead snowballed from there. The Wildcats scored three touchdowns in the final three minutes of the second quarter, including a 48-yard bomb from Santos to David Ball with 13 seconds left in the half. The play followed an interception of Colgate senior quarterback Mike Saraceno and gave the Wildcats a 34-0 lead at intermission.
Saraceno, one of the heroes of the Raiders’ late-season playoff run, threw four interceptions on Saturday, three of whichcame with the Raideroffense driving in New Hampshire territory. Two of the picks set upWildcat touchdowns.
“I don’t feel like their defense was hard to score on,” senior receiver DeWayne Long said.”We showed that we could easily move the ball on them. The problem was, we were not finishing long drives. We ended too many drives with unforced turnovers.This was not the best defense we playedby any stretch.”
Senior linebacker Jared Nepa, who finished his outstanding career by leading Colgate’s defense with 16 tackles, agreed. “Their defense really wasn’t that good,” he said. “I just felt that our offense just had a bad day. Turnovers will kill you.”
Turnovers aside, the Colgate offense had a solid game, at least on paper, accumulating 362 yards. However, they were unable to get on the scoreboard until first-year running back Jordan Scott found the end zone at the 8:10 mark in the third quarter, with Colgate already trailing by 41 points. Scott, for his part, ran for 205 yards and scored all three Raider touchdowns. It was the phenom’s third 200-yard effort of the season.
The Wildcat attack trumped his efforts, though, as it piled up 605 yards and seven touchdowns. The Raiders, who scrapped for wins all season, simply could not keep pace with one of the elite teams in the country.
“It was very disappointing because we worked so hard this year,” Nepa said. “To go out losing on national TV was a terrible way to end what I thought was a great season.”
A great season, indeed. After suffering last-minute losses to Central Connecticut and Dartmouth in the season’s first three games, the Raiders bounced back to win seven of their next eight games, five of which were decided by a touchdown or less. The team’s comeback win over Lafayette in week nine vaulted the Raiders into a first-place tie in the Patriot League standings and eventually into the playoffs.
Head Coach Dick Biddle called the 2005 Raiders “the most rewarding and most special team I’ve had since I’ve been here.”
“This year was the hardest off-season and toughest camp we’vebeen through since I’ve been here,” Galletly said. “When we started 1-2 and guys were down, people canceled us out, and we could have just packed it in. We were fighters all year. We battled tough teams in tough games, and practices were more demanding this year than ever before. This team had heart.”
The members of the Class of 2006 end their Colgate careers with 39 wins, three Patriot League titles and one National Championship game appearance.
So what will they miss most about being Raiders?
“Saturday afternoons around 1 o’clock,” Nepa said.