New Hampshire receiver Ball ties Rice's TD record
HANOVER, N.H. -- New Hampshire receiver David Ball isn't trying to run past Jerry Rice into the record books as much as leap over him.
A high school basketball and high jump champion, Ball grabbed a jump ball in the corner of the end zone for his third touchdown Saturday and the 50th TD catch of his career, tying Rice's Division I-AA mark. With a chance to surpass the future Hall of Famer, Ball watched most of the second half as the Wildcats beat Dartmouth 56-14.
"He's as gifted a receiver as anybody in the country. He's acrobatic and he can run with the ball when you give him some room," Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens said. "Their reputation is such that sometimes guys just backed up. We've never played a team of this caliber before."
Each of Ball's three TDs came with a different style. He caught a swing pass that he turned into a 37-yard score in the first quarter, and a short hook pattern inside the 5 in the second before he went through and over a defender at the goal line.
With 2:43 left in the half, Ball ran to the right corner of the end zone and used a six-inch height advantage -- and skills learned as a three-time high school high jumping champion -- to outjump cornerback Chris Blanco for a 6-yard touchdown.
"Once I saw that coverage," quarterback Ricky Santos said. "I knew right where it was going."
And that was just in the first half. With UNH (3-0) opening a 35-0 lead, the only question was whether coach Sean McDonnell would leave him in long enough for the record.
Ball played the first two series of the third quarter, but on the Wildcats' first play from scrimmage in the second half he coughed up the ball after a 30-yard reception when he was hit by John Pircon. Andrew Dete recovered for Dartmouth (0-2).
"All I really think about is I fumbled the football and ended the game that way," Ball said. "I'm sure it's going to sink in some time."
He was in the end zone -- and open -- on the next drive, but so was Aaron Brown. Santos went to Brown instead for a 24-yard TD pass that made it 42-7; Ball raised his empty hands to celebrate.
"On some plays, even if it looks like I'm not involved, if I can draw two people to me I can make a contribution," Ball said.
Rice was a decoy sometimes, too.
"Definitely," Ball said.
Growing up in small-town Vermont, where eight-man football was the standard, Ball also played basketball in high school and competed in track and field -- high jump, long jump, triple jump -- to get his competitive fix. Even after spending a postgraduate year at Worcester Academy in Massachusetts, McDonnell wasn't quite ready to offer him a scholarship.
Now, Ball and Santos have the Wildcats ranked No. 1 in Division I-AA.
"I'm still trying to figure out how they ended up at UNH," McDonnell said, laughing. "One guy I didn't want and one guy, I told him he wasn't good enough."
McDonnell knows now how wrong he is, and much of Orange, Vt., made the 50-minute drive on Saturday to a virtual home game near the Vermont border to remind him.
"A lot of friends and family were here," Ball said: "Both sets of grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts. It was unbelievable."
The Dartmouth public address announcer made note of Ball's achievement, first when he scored No. 50 and again at the end of the game. Ball's supporters on the UNH side of the stands rose and cheered wildly.
"I just didn't want to look back and see everybody that was there," he said. "I didn't want to feel the pressure."
Ball caught two touchdowns in the season-opening victory over Northwestern -- a landmark win for a Division I-AA school against a Big Ten foe. Ball did not score in a 62-7 win over Stony Brook, again coming out at the half of a blowout.
Santos is on a record hunt of his own, needing 16 more yards passing this season to set the school record.
"I guarantee you he'll have 16 yards next week," McDonnell said wryly. "Would I like to have all this stuff by me right now? Yeah. It would be awesome. But we didn't get it done."
Ball grew up idolizing Rice, who caught 50 touchdown passes from 1981-84 at Mississippi Valley State. He went on to set NFL records of 1,549 receptions for 22,895 yards and 197 receiving touchdowns.
"The most exciting thing about being mentioned with him is I'm happy people view me as they view him," Ball said. "There are a lot of people who view him not only as a great football player, but as a great teammate and a great person. A lot of what set him apart was his character on and off the field."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press