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Offensive Showcase Ends with Last-Second Field Goal for UMass
WORCESTER - With 4 minutes left and the No. 4 Massachusetts football team up seven points at Holy Cross, the team’s field goal kicker Armando Cuko called one of the team’s doctors over.
“I actually called Dr. [Pierre] Rouzier [over] with four minutes left in the game and we were still up seven, and I told him I’m going to win this game with a field goal,” Cuko said.
UMass (2-0) led 42-35 when Cuko called Rouzier over, but with 2:22 remaining HC’s quarterback, Dominic Randolph, finished an 11-play, 77-yard drive, when he found a wide open Freddie Santana in the end zone for his second touchdown catch to tie the game.
The two minutes and change remaining were not a challenge for the Minutemen, who had scored in less time on four of their six touchdown drives; 1:58, 0:47, 2:18 and 2:09.
After HC’s (0-1) kickoff went out of bounds (it kicked three other kickoffs out of bounds), UMass started on its own 40-yard line. After a 3-yard run, two completions and a costly illegal formation penalty, the Minutemen faced a fourth-and-one.
Liam Coen took the snap, trying to extend the drive, and bootlegged to his right before pitching it to tailback Tony Nelson who was running along side him.
“It’s an option play and Liam has the option. It’s only one yard, either keep it or pitch it, and he made absolutely the right decision,” UMass coach Don Brown said. “We had it blocked at the perimeter and Tony didn’t fool around, he just went north and south, made sure he got the one yard and I think he got five or six.”
Four plays later, the Minutemen faced another fourth down and converted on a 16-yard pass from Coen to wide receiver Jeremy Horne that set up Cuko’s late-game heroics with five seconds left.
After three Crusader timeouts, Cuko did just what he told Dr. Rouzier he would do.
“It wasn’t even close, I mean he drilled it,” Brown said.
The 42-yard field goal sent the Minutemen home with a 45-42 win and their second victory of the season.
For the second week in a row, the Minutemen struggled in the first quarter but started to find their rhythm as the game went on.
Coen moved the UMass offense down to the HC 19-yard line on its first possession of the game, before fumbling the snap and turning the ball over to Randolph, the Walter Payton Award candidate, and the Crusaders.
The turnover led to Holy Cross’ first touchdown of the game, a 15-yard pass from Randolph (28-of-44, 249 yards and 3 touchdowns) to wideout Jon Brock. The touchdown would be the only one of the first quarter and the second game in a row where the Minutemen would not score in the first quarter.
Coen answered back on the next drive by hitting an open Horne for 47 yards, which set up a Coen rushing touchdown from one yard out. The touchdown was the second rushing touchdown of Coen’s career; and the first since he rushed for one against Delaware in 2005.
Both teams tallied another touchdown before the Crusaders scored 14 unanswered points on an 88-yard kickoff return and an 8-yard touchdown pass by Randolph, to take a 28-14 lead.
UMass got back within seven on another touchdown toss by Coen. Horne lined up on the left side of the field and sprinted past a defender to get wide open in the end zone and caught a lob pass for his second touchdown of the game.
The 28 points allowed in the first half were the most given up by a UMass defense coached by Brown.
The defense struggled in the first half, not forcing a single punt, but tightened up when they came out for the second half.
The Minutemen knotted the game at 28 on their first drive of the second half. Nelson (22 attempts for 82 yards and two touchdowns) took the handoff from Coen and raced toward the left side of his offensive line.
After bouncing off one tackler and spinning past another, he broke the plane to tie the game.
On the following drive, the defense came up with its first three and out of the game. It followed that with consecutive sacks on the next HC drive.
The stronger play on the defensive side of the ball gave UMass the opportunity to catch up and get ahead of the Crusaders.
The Minutemen scored 21 unanswered points to take their first lead of the game, 35-28, with 2:18 to play in the third quarter and never relinquished it after that.
Coen and his receiving corps quieted a lot of their critics with their performance on Saturday. After throwing for 92 yards in Week 1, Coen aired it out for a total of 395 yards on 25-of-36 throwing, with four passes of 25 yards or more (47, 38, 34 and 25), and was helped by great play at wideout.
“I don’t think there any more questions about our wide receiver corps anymore,” Coen said. “I’ll tell you that they stepped up big and made some huge plays for us.”
Horne had a career day, setting highs for receptions (10), receiving yards (172), longest reception (47) and touchdowns (2).
Another receiver who made a big contribution was Victor Cruz. Cruz only had one career reception, but caught five against the Crusaders for 89 yards including a 38-yard hookup with Coen.
Joe Sanford added two catches, including one for a 25-yard touchdown where he avoided numerous tackles before crossing the goal line. After the game, Brown was not surprised with the performances by his wide receivers.
“We knew we had talent there. We knew we had confidence in those guys, just like Tony [Nelson], it just needed to be done on a Saturday afternoon and guys needed to become household names,” Brown said.
The Minutemen play their second consecutive game on the road next weekend when they travel Harrisonburg, Va., to play No. 8 James Madison.
The Massachusetts football team keeps winning ugly. And they keep getting rewarded for it.
For the second straight week, the Minutemen have climbed up one spot in the Sports Network’s Football Championship Subdivision poll. UMass is now the No. 3 team, behind only two-time defending national champions Appalachian State and North Dakota State.
UMass (2-0) started the season at No. 5, before climbing to No. 4 after a season-opening 28-16 win over Albany. The Minutemen - who received one first-place vote this week - moved up again after defeating Holy Cross, 45-42, on a 42-yard field goal as time expired.
While the team continues to move up in the poll, UMass players continue to collect accolades. Linebacker Josh Jennings took an award in Week 1, while quarterback Liam Coen and wide receiver Julian Talley were honored after their performances against the Crusaders.
In a classic quarterback battle with Holy Cross’ Dominic Randolph, Coen had one of the best games of his career - throwing for three touchdowns (and running for another) while accumulating 395 yards in the air on 25-for-36 passing. For his efforts, the senior signal caller was named the Sports Network National Player of the Week.
Talley (four receptions, 71 yards) was named Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Week. The 6-foot-1 redshirt freshman wide receiver had only one catch for 20 yards in the opener against the Great Danes.
Special teams fun
For whatever reason, any and all games involving UMass seem to provide endless suspense on special teams - and last weekend’s game was a perfect example.
Sometimes that drama makes UMass coach Don Brown ecstatic. But mostly, it seems to anger him to no end. Last year it was the problem with punting (starter Brett Arnold was benched in the playoffs, and backup quarterback Scott Woodward had to take over). This year, it seems to be the coverage teams.
Against Holy Cross, the Minutemen allowed an 88-yard kickoff return touchdown to Brett McDermott in the second quarter - giving the Crusaders their third lead of the game at 21-14. They also allowed a 32-yard punt return to Josh Jenkins, which help set up a touchdown to extend the lead to 28-14.
“Our special teams play was downright bad, especially in the first half,” Brown said. “We played much better in the second half. We still have a long way to go there, but you have to give them credit too. McDermott is an excellent return man and he earned everything he got.”
But special teams would ultimately lead to the win for Brown and Co., as senior kicker Armando Cuko - who hasn’t attempted a field goal for the Minutemen in almost three years - nailed the 42-yard field goal to escape Worcester with the victory.
Arnold, who had his ups and downs last season, punted the ball very well again last weekend. He has a 46.1 average on 10 punts this season in two games. Last year his average was 37.9 on 51 attempts.
Grabbing life by the Hornes
Entering this season, skeptics wondered whether Coen would have anyone to throw to with the graduation of receivers J.J. Moore and Rasheed Rancher and tight end Brad Listorti.
He does. And that player is Jeremy Horne.
The 6-foot-3 redshirt junior wideout wasn’t much of a factor last season with all the talent on offense - catching 12 passes for 146 yards. However, three of those passes were hauled in for touchdowns, showing his play-making ability.
He showed it in a big way against the Crusaders - exploding for 172 yards and two touchdowns on 10 receptions. He now also had a touchdown reception in the win over Albany.
The pair of touchdowns came at great times against Holy Cross. His first, a 26-yarder, tied the game at 14-14 midway in the second quarter. His next one (19 yards) cut the lead to 28-21 just one minute before halftime.
“I don’t think there are anymore questions about our receiver corps now,” Brown said. “I don’t think anybody can say anything about them now. They’re a great group and have been working their tails off. It was just a matter of getting on the same page.”
News and notes
UMass continues to have problems in the penalty department. It committed 11 against Holy Cross, resulting in six first downs and 107 total yards. … The Minutemen lost the time of possession battle in three of the four quarters - including 35:01-24:59 overall and 11:40-3:20 in the first quarter. … UMass was 2-for-2 on fourth downs and 4-of-5 in the red zone. … Reserve quarterback Octavious Hawkins lined up at wide receiver for a few plays, catching one ball for 23 yards.
Offensive showcase ends with last-second field goal
By Jeffrey R. Larnard, The Daily Collegian
Photo Credit: Mike Phillis/The Daily Collegian
By Eli Rosenswaike, The Daily Collegian