Hernandez steps up in place of injured Nelson
When Jon Hernandez rattled off a game winning 42-yard touchdown run against New Hampshire on Saturday, it proved a number of things.
It showed that the Massachusetts football team’s loss last week at Delaware was a lapse, it showed that the No. 18 Minutemen (4-2, 2-1 Colonial Athletic Association) can play with the best in the country and, more importantly, it showed they have depth all over the field.
Hernandez, the winner of the Bill Knight trophy, an annual award given out to the Most Valuable Player in the game between UMass and UNH (5-1, 2-1 CAA), was given the nod over tailback Tony Nelson who is dealing with a contusion on his thigh. Despite not having the CAA’s leading rusher, the No. 18 Minutemen’s offense didn’t miss a beat as Hernandez rushed for 166 yards on 29 carries (5.7 yards per rush) and a touchdown.
“Another great job by Jon, and that is where Jon is at, he’s a quality football guy and we’re fortunate to have guys like these guys step up and make plays,” UMass coach Kevin Morris said after the Minutemen’s 23-17 upset over No. 4 UNH.
For Hernandez, he has just made the most of every opportunity he’s been given. Against Albany in Week 2, Hernandez came in late to rush for 88 yards on nine carries including a 58-yard touchdown run and another from one-yard out. The redshirt sophomore got his first career start two weeks later and ran for 146 yards and three scores. Hernandez now leads the team with 408 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
“We expect Jon to play the way he’s playing because he has that kind of capability,” Morris said after the game. “We didn’t know he would have this many touches at this point. With Tony not being able to get a good run in today, we went back to Jon again and Jon responded.”
Hernandez was not the only Minuteman to step up against the Wildcats though. With Jeromy Miles lost in the second quarter for the rest of the game after getting hit on the head while making a tackle, and with Shane Viveiros not dressing after being reinstated from his suspension, redshirt freshman Kumar Davis saw plenty of snaps and made the most of the last one.
After an Armando Cuko field goal put UMass up by six with just over two minutes left, UNH’s R.J. Toman drove the Wildcats down the field, needing a touchdown. After reaching UMass’ 13-yard line with three seconds left on the clock, Toman was intercepted by Davis in the endzone, who quickly went down to the ground to end the game.
“A little too exciting right down there to the very end with the three seconds left and we call timeout to settle down and Kumar here made a great interception to finish the game off,” Morris said.
“When you go back to Kansas State and through each game we have had guys step up, we talked earlier about Perry McIntyre and D.J. Adeoba getting Rookie of the Week honors in brand new roles,” Morris said. “Kumar has played now, this isn’t his first rookie game but he is a rookie guy and playing tremendous.”
It has been a common thing all year for UMass; one player will go down and someone new will step up. More importantly, when these players do step up, they don’t surprise Morris. Whenever Morris is asked if he expected someone new to play the way they did, he says that it was expected. Whether it is Nelson or Hernandez rushing, Morris expects them to get their job done, and they do as well as the other players who have had to step up.
Without such key players like Nelson and Miles, each a leader on their respective sides of the ball, many wouldn’t think UMass would have a chance against a UNH team that led the CAA in points per game and points allowed per game entering Saturday. But because of the ability for UMass to have players step up and the confidence that Morris has in his players to do what is asked of them, the Minutemen were able to pull out the victory that now has them tied in first place in the CAA North.
Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.