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UMass runs over Albany in opener
Nelson, Coen star under lights in win.
It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, but the Massachusetts football team got the job done in whatever way it could.
Playing under the newly-installed lights at McGuirk Alumni Stadium, the Minutemen defeated Albany, 28-16, in front of 15,112 (the second-largest opening day crowd).
The Minutemen looked sluggish early, committing three penalties for a total of 43 yards (compared to Albany’s one penalty for 10 yards); not to mention a muffed punt return that ended up in the end zone which put Albany up 9-0.
“It’s pretty mind-boggling to think about it,” said Albany starting running back David McCarty about his team being up 9-0. “A lot of people didn’t think we had it in us. We stayed focused and knew what the task was ahead of us.”
The Great Danes went up on their first possession of the game when quarterback Vinny Esposito found tailback McCarty on a screen pass. The junior outran the UMass defense on his way to a 52-yard touchdown.
The Maroon and White answered; fueled by redshirt junior running back Tony Nelson who rushed seven times for 42 yards in the first half, helping the Minutemen march down the field to set up its first score.
Though Nelson did most of the work, Coen hooked-up with tight end Ian Jorgensen on the first of two, 2-yard touchdown passes. With most of the Great Dane defense falling for Coen’s play-action Jorgensen made a diving catch to pull the Minutemen within two. The Minutemen again scored almost five minutes later when Coen connected with Nelson from two yards out to put the Minutemen up.
Nelson’s score was set up by a tipped-ball from the fingers of defensive tackle Brandon Collier and into the hands of defensive back Jeromy Miles.
With the game still within one score Nelson broke a 64-yard touchdown run.
After accepting Coen’s handoff, Nelson darted up the middle. He broke the initial tackle, spun off another and sprinted through the Albany secondary on his way to the end zone.
“Tony made a great run … it gave us some breathing room, which we badly needed,” UMass coach Don Brown said. “Every time our mettle was tested, we responded.”
Nelson’s run was the longest run for a UMass tailback since R.J. Cobbs busted a 84-yard run on Nov. 2, 2002.
Coming into the game a big question mark for UMass was its new offensive line. Only one member of the line is playing at their original spot. Coen wasn’t sacked once and they created holes for Nelson throughout the game.
“They did a fairly solid job,” Brown said. “We kept Liam [Coen] up for the most part. It’s an area where we will continue to grow.”
When the offense did struggle, punter Brett Arnold, made sure the Great Danes had less-than-desirable field position. Arnold punted six times for an average of 47.5 and pinned Albany inside their own 20-yard line three times.
“I was concerned especially with some of our areas of youth,” Brown said. “I was concerned with how we were going to respond.
Perhaps the turning point for the defense was immediately before on an Albany fourth-and-goal at the UMass 3-yard line. Albany put the ball in McCarty’s hands once again, but redshirt junior defensive tackle Brandon Collier and redshirt junior Josh Jennings met him at the line, and the Great Danes turned the ball over on downs.
“That was huge,” Jennings said. “We’re going to face adversity … we all stepped up, we knew what we were facing.”
When the second half was well under way you could tell the nerves from the first half were long gone. The team ran, blocked and tackled more efficiently.
In the third quarter Esposito was sacked twice, pressured more and forced to scramble out of the pocket more often. The Minutemen intercepted two Esposito passes; the first by Jeromy Miles on a Brandon Collier deflection and another by middle linebacker Josh Jennings, who leapt to intercept a ball thrown over the middle in the early stages of the fourth quarter.
Coen, who threw for 94 yards and three touchdowns, connected with Jeremy Horne at the 11:12 mark of the fourth quarter to put the Maroon and White up 28-16. Coen, like the rest of his team, came into the first game not as composed as he would have liked. Before connecting with Horne for the game’s final score, Coen missed him racing, uncovered across the field.
“We don’t worry about the artistic wins, we worry about winning the football game,” Brown said. “We needed to play a game to find out where we were at. Winning is the important thing.”
The Minutemen play Holy Cross next Saturday, Aug. 30, in Worcester.
UMass runs over Albany in opener
By Ryan Fleming, The Daily Collegian (MA)
Photo Credit: Brian Tedder/The Daily Collegian