Durham, NH (SportsNetwork.com) - All-American wide receiver R.J. Harris is noted as being New Hampshire's hardest worker.
No doubt he's the Wildcats' best player.
Harris caught two touchdowns, including on a 61-yard screen pass in the fourth quarter that helped put away top-seeded New Hampshire's 35-30 victory over eighth-seeded Chattanooga in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs Friday night.
The win gives the Wildcats (12-1) a semifinal-round date at home next weekend against either fourth-seeded Eastern Washington or fifth-seeded Illinois State, who face each other in another quarterfinal on Saturday.
New Hampshire, making its 11th straight playoff appearance under coach Sean McDonnell, has captured 12 straight wins and 14 straight home games, both program records.
Harris' decisive second touchdown was electrifying. New Hampshire clung to a 28-24 lead in a back-and-forth game when it took possession of the ball at its 39 following a Chattanooga punt early in the fourth quarter.
On first down, Harris went in motion and took a handoff from quarterback Sean Goldrich. Harris lateralled the ball to fellow wide receiver Jimmy Giansante, who then flipped it back to Goldrich. The senior signal caller lofted a screen pass to Harris in the backfield at the 30, who immediately picked up blocks and blew past Chattanooga defenders along the sideline to give the Wildcats the game's first double-digit lead, 35-24, with 11:04 remaining to play.
Nick Cefalo then intercepted Chattanooga quarterback Jacob Huesman on the Mocs' ensuing drive and New Hampshire begin milking game clock from there. Huesman had dominated the first half before the Wildcats had defensive answers after halftime.
But on Chattanooga's next possession, running back Derraine Craine scored on an 8-yard pass from Huesman with 1:32 left to pull the Mocs with 35-30.
With no remaining timeouts, the Mocs needed to recover the ensuing onside kick, but New Hampshire's Keith Parkinson did. The Wildcats ran out the clock from there and advanced to the national semifinals for the second consecutive season.
Last year, they were eliminated at eventual national champion North Dakota State one step shy of the national championship game.
Harris finished with seven receptions for 172 yards. Until his second touchdown, the first-ever meeting between the two conference champions - New Hampshire in CAA Football and Chattanooga in the Southern Conference - was extremely tight.
Huesman had 428 total yards and accounted for three touchdowns in Chattanooga's loss, which ended a seven-game losing streak. Goldrich threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns for New Hampshire.
The Wildcats went ahead for good 28-24 on Nico Steriti's 6-yard draw with 13:23 left in the fourth quarter. But the play nearly didn't happen.
Chattanooga defensive back Trevor Knight intercepted Goldrich in the Mocs' end zone. But video replay confirmed Knight didn't re-establish himself in the end zone before catching the ball. On the next play, Steriti scored his second touchdown of the game to erase a 24-22 New Hampshire deficit. An attempt for a two-point conversion failed, however.
Trailing 22-21 after three quarters, Chattanooga (10-4) went ahead when Henrique Ribeiro kicked a 27-yard field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter. The kick stopped a string of four straight missed field goal attempts by Ribeiro during the playoffs.
New Hampshire had kept seven of its previous opponents to under 20 points, but Chattanooga took a 21-15 lead into halftime after Huesman scored from 1 yard out with 21 seconds remaining in the second quarter. It completed a huge first half in which he was 15-for-17 for 167 yards and rushed for another 64 yards and two touchdowns.
His second touchdown erased a 15-14 Mocs' deficit. Goldrich threw a 49-yard scoring pass to Harris with 4:47 left and then holder Andy Vailas ran in a faked extra point for the two-point conversion.
Still, Chattanooga controlled the clock for 21 minutes, 26 seconds in the first half while outgaining New Hampshire in yards, 346 to 155.