AKRON, OHIO – The Massachusetts Minutemen picked up their first-ever win as both a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision and of the Mid-American Conference Saturday afternoon as they defeated the Akron Zips, 22-14, at InfoCision Stadium. UMass (1-9,1-5 MAC) took advantage of five Zips turnovers, converting three of them into scores, along with a blocked punt as they picked up their first win since October 11,2011 at Richmond (28-7) - a span of 12 games.
Akron (1-10, 0-7 MAC ) insured its third consecutive season of double-digit losses and has dropped 19 consecutive games against the FBS and 14 straight against the MAC.
“When you lose, it’s the coach’s fault.” UA head man Terry Bowden said afterward. “It is my responsibility not to have them flat. I need to go back and see how we prepared and what we need to do and see why we cannot play our sharpest in a game like this.”
On a simply beautiful November Saturday, no one what might happen in a game matching teams with one win between them. Ultimately, it would be the visitors from Amherst who came ready to play and made the least mistakes.
After stopping UA on a three-and-out, UMass got the ball on for its first possession at its own 27 yard line. Massachusetts drove the ball to the UA two-yard line using the short passing game of redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Wegzyn and the running of graduate student RB Michael Cox. But on second down, Wegzyn was intercepted in the end zone by senior LB J.D. Griggs, just UA’s fifth interception this season.
The Zips could not do anything with the pick, and were forced to punt from their own 42. Massachusetts then created their own break when freshman Khary Bailey-Smith came in alone to block Zach Paul’s punt.
Bailey-Smith scooped up the ball and was run out of bounds at the Zips five. A planned run by Wegzyn got the ball to the one, however a penalty placed the ball back at the six. Freshman PK Blake Lucas came on to convert a 23-yard field goal and give the Minutement a 3-0 lead. It was the first time since the game against Ohio back on September 29th that the Minutemen scored first and had a lead.
UA started moving the ball in the second quarter, reaching the UMass 22 when fifth-year senior quarterback Dalton Williams threw into the end zone and was intercepted by redshirt freshman cornerback Randall Jette.
Mounting a long drive, UMass converted the turnover into points as Wegzyn moved the ball down to the Akron six. The big play was a 36-yard deep sideline pass to fifth-year senior WR Alan Williams. When the Zips defense stiffened, Lucas drilled a 26-yard field goal, extending the Minutemen lead to 6-0.
Midway through the period, UMass picked off Williams a second time. This one fell right into the hands of sophomore CB Ed Saint-Vil at his own 45 and he returned the ball 42 yards to the UA 24.
UMass soon registered their first touchdown of the contest when Wegzyn found Williams all alone over the middle in the end zone for the score. Molnar decided to go for a two-point conversion, which failed, giving UMass a 12-0 lead.
Wegzyn, who got the starting nod when Kellen Pagel was diagnosed with concussion like symptoms back in fall camp, had a solid game. He completed 23-of-39 passes for 266 yards and the touchdown to Williams, who had six catches for 86 yards and the score.
After an exchange of punts, the Zips generated another turnover as Williams’ tossed his third interception of half. Bailey-Smith added an interception to his blocked punt resume for the day and returned the ball to the Zips 22.
The Minutemen got points off the turnover, but again settled for a three as Lucas came on for a 35-yard field goal to make the score 15-0 at halftime. The advantage marked the first time this season UMass had a lead after 30 minutes.
Coming into the game, Lucas had made just two field goals, with his longest being 30 yards, since becoming the regular placekicker in the game against the Bobcats. He had three in the first half alone, with a long of 35, against the Zips.
As the third quarter began, the Zips defense, Zips linebacker Troy Gilmer recovered a UMass fumble at the UA 39.
Williams and the offense turned the turnover into a touchdown by moving 61 yards in 10 plays Sophomore RB Jawon Chisholm gained 43 yards on the drive, including the final one,as he went over the top to narrow the Minutemen lead to 15-7.
Chisholm, who has been UA’s top rusher in 2012, gained 103 yards on the afternoon. It was his second consecutive 100-yard game and the sixth time this season he has hit the century mark.
The game then settled down to a battle of punts and field position with UMass pinning the Zips inside their own 10 yard line three times - twice at their one.
There was no further scoring until late in the fourth quarter after Williams was intercepted for a fourth time. Freshman safety Joe Colton returned the ball to the UA one. Two plays later, Wegzyn punched his way into the end zone for 22-7 lead after the PAT.
“We have been pounding away at it for a long time. We have worked so hard for this. I am glad for everybody that we could get that victory.” Wegzyn said.
After the kickoff, UA showed it still had some life. Using the no-huddle offense, Akron rallied to score a touchdown when Williams connected with senior WR Marquelo Suel on a simple go pattern down the right sideline. That made the score 22-14 with 2:27 remaining. Suel led all receivers in the game with 11 catches for 105 yards and a score
Williams did complete 34-of-51 passes for 332 yards with the touchdown to Suel, but he also had the four interceptions - a season high.
On the ensuing kickoff, Bowden elected not to use the on-side kick and kicked away hoping his defense could get the ball back with time remaining. The Zips defense did that, limiting UMass to a three-and-out, getting the ball back to the offense at the UA 22 with 1:54 remaining
A couple of Williams completions moved the ball to the Akron 49. But on a fourth down play, Williams was hit and fumbled. UMass recovered and ran out the clock for the victory.
“I think I got hugged by everybody on the team.” Molnar said.
UA won the statistical battle outgaining the Minutemen by 100 yards (427-to-327), but the five turnovers and the blocked punt proved to be the Zips undoing.
“The defense played tough over and over again.” Bowden said. “The offense got them out of holes plenty of times. Today the offense could not perform. It’s a shame.”
UMass returns home for its final two games of 2012, beginning with Buffalo next Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Akron completes its season on November 20th at Toledo.
OFFENSE: JAWON CHISHOLM-AKRON. The sophomore running back from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania gained 103 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown, giving him 906 yards on the season
DEFENSE: KHARY BAILEY-SMITH UMASS: The freshman from Weymouth, Mass had a blocked punt and an interception to get the Minutemen an early lead they would not relinquish
SPECIAL TEAMS: BLAKE LUCAS & COLTER JOHNSON-UMASS: Lucas, a freshman from Cochran, Ga., had three field goals, including his career long of 35 yards. Johnson, a junior from Warren, Pa. pinned the Zips in the second half with three punts inside the 10 yard line, two landing at the one.
The game was the first ever meeting between the two schools…UMass scored 22 points in the victory. In its previous four games the Minutemen scored a combined 21 points…Alan Williams-UMass had six receptions in the game, one off his season high of seven against Ohio…14 seniors played their final home game for UA including OL Adam Bice, QB Dalton Williams, and LB Kurt Mangum…UA’s defense allowed 327 yards, the second lowest total of the season…UA’s offense registered 427 yards. That marked the third straight game and fourth in the last five that the Zips have gained over 400 yards…Marquelo Suel-AKR 105 yards matched his season high (vs. Florida International).