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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

No. 16 Minutemen Dodge Upset

For the second week in a row, the Massachusetts football team came within seconds of blowing a game-long lead only to come up with a clutch play to preserve the victory as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

UMass [6-2, 4-1 Atlantic 10] held a 14-7 lead over James Madision with 35 seconds remaining in Saturday’s contest. The Dukes had the ball at the Maroon and White 27-yard line on third down and goal. JMU Head Coach Mickey Matthews went for a trick play – calling a hook and ladder.

James Madison quarterback Jayson Cooke tossed the ball to wideout Nic Tolley on an out pattern. Tolley then pitched the ball to running back Brannon Goins, who had yards of daylight and headed for the right corner of the endzone. But UMass safety Anton McKenzie ran No. 5 down at the one-yard line.

“Great play by Anton,” UMass Head Coach Mark Whipple said of McKenzie, who was last week’s hero with a game-saving field goal block. “He’s a really good player.”

On fourth down with 26 seconds left, the Dukes went for a QB sneak, as Cooke tried to push through the left side of his offensive line. But the right side of the UMass defense held strong, and Cooke, who tried to pitch the ball once the defense had him wrapped up, fumbled the ball. Freshman safety Shannon James recovered, giving the Maroon and White its sixth win of the year.

“He got hit and spun off,” James said. “He tried to pitch the ball at the last second and it came out. I just tried to scoop it up and score. When I knew I couldn’t, I just fell on it and preserved the win.”

The Minutemen had great success holding the Dukes down in the red zone all afternoon, allowing just one touchdown in the five possessions that reached the 20-yard line. The Dukes racked up 415 yards of total offense against the Maroon and White, but had little to show for it.

“[Our defense was] tremendous,” Whipple said. “You give up one touchdown you should win the game. Our defense was tremendous down inside the five-yard line.”

After an offense-free first half that ended with the score knotted at zero, Whipple reached into his bag of tricks on UMass’ first drive of the second half.

On fourth-and-four at the JMU 48, Whipple sent out his punt team. The ball was snapped to Corey Potter, who was lined up between the center and the punter. The senior captain pivoted left and pitched the ball to James, who was headed in the opposite direction. James broke to the outside and had just one Madison player to beat down the sideline. No. 34 won the footrace and broke the scoreless tie, giving UMass a 7-0 lead.

“For us to score a touchdown on special teams is huge,” said UMass quarterback Jeff Krohn, who completed 13-of-22 pass attempts for 128 yards. “That got us going and we came out on the next possession and got a touchdown.”

The Minutemen doubled their lead to 14-0 on their very next possession as freshman Raunny Rosario pounded the ball for 31 yards on the drive, including a five-yard bullying into paydirt. Junior fullback Terrence Glover caught two passes for 34 yards on the drive.

JMU answered immediately, however, as quarterback Matt Lezotte hit sophomore wideout Mark Higgins for a 72-yard gain. Sophomore tailback Rondell Bradley went off-tackle on the next play for the score.

According to Whipple, it was clear that his players were not mentally ready for the contest before they even got on the plane for Virginia.

“I knew [Friday] morning when we had 11 guys late for breakfast that we would be very lucky to win today,” said Whipple, who kept starting running back R.J. Cobbs and wide receiver Joe Bruce out for the entire first quarter for the policy violation.

“When you’ve got guys that get on the bus 10 minutes early to go to Richmond and North Carolina State and then you’ve got to wake up guys in bed, then you know you have a problem,” Whipple said.

The Brown alum didn’t think that it was the specific team they were playing that led to the problem.

“I don’t think it was JMU,” Whipple said. “I think it wouldn’t have mattered who we played. The problem that you have is that all the sudden you beat two teams at home that are supposedly great and you have all the answers.”

With a team he felt was lacking focus and a quarterback that suffered a concussion the week before, Whipple was just happy to get out of Harrisonburg with a win.

“We were very fortunate to win,” Whipple said. “They hit harder, they tackled better, they came to play.”

Many comparisons have been made between the breaks enjoyed by this year’s team to the ones enjoyed in ’98’s Championship run, something that Whipple is careful to allow.

“Maybe it’s going to be a special year,” Whipple said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”