UNH beats Delaware in a shootout. Ricky Santos is this year’s Vince Young

ricky santosIt was supposed to David Ball’s night — the night the University of New Hampshire receiver would move past NFL legend Jerry Rice in the record books with his 51st career touchdown catch. Teammate Ricky Santos had other ideas.

In a game where both teams scored at will and piled up nearly 1,000 yards of offense, New Hampshire survived the biggest challenge yet to its No. 1 ranking as Santos almost singlehandedly kept the Wildcats one step ahead, leading the UNH to a 52-49 win over the Delaware Blue Hens at Delaware Stadium last night.

On a night where Santos set the New Hampshire all-time career passing yards record previously held by Bob Jean, it was his nimble footwork and crafty play-action fakes that had the Hens’ defense confused and the 22,055 Delaware fans in shock. New Hampshire piled up 516 offensive yards to Delaware’s 466.

Possibly Santos’ most jaw-dropping play came on a first and goal with 4:40 left in the game and the Wildcats up 38-34. Santos fielded a low snap, broke a tackle in the backfield, squirmed his way up the middle and eluded Delaware defenders for a nine-yard touchdown and a 45-34 lead.

That drive was kept alive by a frantic Santos scramble on third and 12 from the Delaware 40 yard line.

Santos finished with 281 yards passing, 112 yards rushing, five total touchdowns — three passing and two rushing — and no turnovers.

“He played unbelievably tonight,” Ball said. “He’s the big reason why we won this game. We were making mistakes and he put us on his shoulders tonight.”

Delaware got a big return on the ensuing kick by Rashad Woodard to the New Hampshire 23 and scored three plays later on a run by Omar Cuff, his fourth touchdown of the game. A two-point conversion by Cuff cut the lead to 45-42.

But in a fashion that was typical of the Wildcats all game long, a kick return to the Delaware 45 yard line gave the Wildcats good field position once again. Chris Ward wasted no time as he broke through the Hens’ defense on the first play of the drive for a 45-yard touchdown run, putting New Hampshire up 52-42.

Delaware, as they did all night, came right back and responded with yet another score of their own, a 10 yard pass from Joe Flacco to Aaron Love with 56 seconds remaining.

With the lead for the Wildcats 52-49, Delaware tried an onsides kick which was recovered by New Hampshire.

UNH head coach Sean McDonnell said playing at Delaware Stadium was a great test for his team.

“It’s just an unbelievable atmosphere,” said McDonnell. “The one thing this football program has done year in, year out, when we get to place like this, we really like playing here.”

Early on, it appeared Santos and Ball would waste no time breaking their respective records, fittingly on the same play. On the sixth play from scrimmage, Santos found Ball down the right sideline and Ball barreled through Delaware defenders before being forced out at the one-yard-line.

Santos said the records were not a focus for the team and the win was the only goal for the game.

“We hear every week about these records and we just want to get a win,” Santos said. “Dave will be the first one to tell you, he didn’t get the record tonight and doesn’t care one bit.”