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Havens shines as UMass crushes URI

Kyle Havens had his first career 300-yard passing game while Tony Nelson had his sixth career 150-yard rushing performance as the Massachusetts football team won its conference opener against Rhode Island, 30-10.

The offensive fireworks were another step forward for first-year starter Havens who started his first game against a Colonial Athletic Association opponent. Against the Rams, Havens was 22-for-30 for 329 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, but truly excelled in the first half.

The Minutemen (2-1, 1-0 CAA), were 7-for-7 on third down conversions in the first half, allowing them to keep the Rams offense off the field. URI (1-1, 0-1 CAA) was limited to just under 10 minutes of possession and had only four offensive possessions in the first half.

While holding onto the ball led to points for UMass on offense in the first half, it also led to a rested defense in the second half.

“You’d like to go a full 60 minutes without your defense playing a whole lot of football,” UMass coach Kevin Morris said. “That means you’re winning a lot of ball games.”

On defense, the Minutemen were given the task of containing URI dual threat quarterback Chris Paul-Ettiene. After leading the team in rushing and passing two weeks ago against Fordham, the Rams quarterback did not have a positive rushing play in the first half and gained 23 yards on six carries in the second half.

The Minutemen opened the first quarter with an impressive 12-play, 68-yard drive in which junior quarterback Kyle Havens picked up where he left off after his breakout performance last week. Havens capped off the scoring drive with a four-yard completion to fullback Chris Zardas, completing the pass while being driven into the ground by URI defender Steve Whedon.

“You just can’t ever give up on a play,” Havens said. “But at the same time you have to be smart and know when to take the sack. On that particular play, I felt like I backed up just enough where that guy wasn’t going to be on my upper body at all and I just feel like my arm is strong enough where I can get that ball in there without using my legs.”

URI responded with a strong opening drive of its own, with Paul-Etienne going 4-of-4 for 63 yards, taking the Rams to the UMass 3-yard line.

But just when it seemed when the Rams were going to match the Minutemen drive-for-drive to open up the game, Paul-Etienne’s pass was deflected in the endzone by linebacker Tyler Holmes and intercepted by linebacker Kurt Filler. From that point on, URI was never able to mount another successful offensive drive in the half.

“Tyler made a great play in the endzone and popped it up to me and I happened to be in the right spot,” Filler said of the play.

UMass would then score two unanswered touchdowns, going into the half with a 21-0 lead on URI. Paul-Etienne, who had been successful in picking apart the Minuteman secondary was harassed in the second quarter as the UMass pass rush gave him little time in the pocket.

In the second half, the Rams would go on to break the shutout midway through the third quarter when running back Jonathan Hernandez was stripped at the line. URI linebacker Rob Damon knocked it loose while safety Jarrod Williams returned the ensuing fumble 68 yards untouched for the defensive touchdown.

The touchdown was the first time all season that the Minutemen have let the opposing team score in the second half and ended a 96 minute, 8 second scoreless streak against the Rams.

Following the score, the Rams attempted an onside kick, which went straight towards the recently stripped Hernandez. Making up for his earlier mistake, Hernandez caught the dribbling kick and secured the ball. On the first play of the next drive, Havens hit senior Joe Sanford downfield for a 42-yard completion, which set up a 22-yard field goal from Armando Cuko to make it 24-7 UMass.

Early on in the fourth quarter, after the Rams added a field goal in the third quarter, Cruz was stripped on a punt return, which gave the Rams great field position and a late chance to get back in the game. During the drive, the Rams had their first major success against the Minuteman defense since the first half, slashing the opposing front with their running game to inside the 10-yard line.

But on a third and short, Holmes and safety Jeromy Miles made a key stop on a run up the middle, forcing a fourth down. On the next play, Paul-Etienne fumbled the snap and was forced to fall on it, spoiling the scoring opportunity.

Following the stop, the Minutemen drove down the field on a seven play, 67-yard drive, featuring a 51-yard reception by Victor Cruz in which the senior split the defense on a post route and cut to the outside for another 20 yards before getting pushed out of bounds. Cuko capped off the drive with a 37-yard field goal, putting UMass up by three scores and the game out of reach for the Rams.

The Rams got the ball back with plenty of time to score and save face, but the drive faltered around midfield, giving UMass the ball back with 6:30 left. The Minutemen then looked to their Nelson to carry the load and bleed the rest of the clock. Nelson, who had 161 yards on the game, went 50 yards on 6 rushes on the drive, which ended in a 42-yard field goal by Cuko.

“It’s certainly our game offensively to get a lead in the fourth quarter and pound the rock, kill the clock,” Morris said. “If Tony’s pounding on you and pounding on you, pretty soon you’re going to break a little bit and Tony did a great job of just continuing to drive, get the first downs and be able to put the game away.

Nick O’Malley can be reached at nomalley@student.umass.edu.

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