Nelson, Havens lead Minutemen in rout of Northeastern at McGuirk
For the third week in a row, Kyle Havens was pulled from the game for senior Scott Woodward for performance reasons. But this time it was a good thing, as the Massachusetts football team returned to form Saturday in a 37-7 blowout of Northeastern.
The Minutemen (5-4, 3-3 Colonial Athletic Association) scored at will for much of the game on offense and prevented the Huskies (1-8, 1-5 CAA) from crossing midfield until midway through the fourth quarter on offense in a dominating performance on both sides of the ball.
After Havens was benched in his past two games, the UMass offense needed a solid outing from their quarterback. They got it Saturday against Northeastern with a little help from wideout Victor Cruz and tailback Tony Nelson.
Havens went 15-of-27 for 187 yards and a touchdown, including five passes for 87 yards and a score to Cruz, and went without an interception for the first time all season. Woodward was put in for the fourth quarter to finish out the game.
“I don’t know so much as we needed it. This is the way we should be playing,” Havens said, when asked if the offense needed a solid outing to restore confidence. “The turnovers have been killing us, and we eliminated those today and it showed on the scoreboard.”
After being hampered by a thigh contusion and losing carries to redshirt sophomore Jonathan Hernandez, Nelson finally looked like the workhorse back the Minutemen were counting on going into the season, rushing for 116 yards on 20 carries and three touchdowns. Nelson’s three scores on the day gave him 21 for his career, tying him for sixth all-time in UMass history.
Not to be outdone, the UMass defense put out another stellar performance, holding the Huskies to 145 total yards and no points on offense and two turnovers. With linebacker Tyler Holmes a late scratch with post-concussion symptoms, redshirt junior Mike Mele took over at the middle linebacker spot and the Minutemen didn’t skip a beat. Mele led the defense with 10 tackles and a fumble recovery. The Huskies’ only points of the game came off of an interception return for a touchdown off of Woodward.
“Great job by the defense on the day, threw a shutout,” UMass coach Kevin Morris said. “Everything you can ask of a defense is to keep them out of the end zone, and they did that today.”
With 27 unanswered points in the first half, the Minutemen burst out of the offensive funk that limited them to 21 points combined in the last two weeks.
After an early field goal by Armando Cuko, the Minutemen were struggling to engineer a complete drive for much of the first quarter. When UMass came out in a punt formation on its own 29-yard line, it seemed as though another drive had been snuffed. But before the Huskies defense knew what was going on, the Minutemen had already snapped the ball to safety Jeromy Miles, the upback in the punt formation, who streaked down the left side of the field for 32 yards. The play is Miles’ only career carry.
“Certainly on that drive, it gave us about [32 yards],” Morris said. “It was well executed. Jeromy Miles had a great run on it and got the offense right back on the field and we scored a touchdown off that drive. So, certainly it was a great momentum builder for us”
With a second life UMass drove down the field, completing the 10-play, 71-yard drive with a 1-yard carry by Nelson on fourth down to take the 10-0 lead.
UMass went on to score three more times in the half, giving the Huskies a heavy dose of Victor Cruz, who grabbed an 11-yard touchdown pass and a key 31-yarder. Nelson added a 1-yard scoring run and Cuko hit a 36-yard field goal to put UMass up 27-0 going into the locker room. Cuko’s second field goal of the game him a school record 17 on the season.
The Minutemen came out in the second half looking to put the game away. The UMass offense ground out the second drive of the half for 12 plays and five minutes and 39 seconds with Nelson scoring to make it 34-0, finishing the day for many of the starters on offense.
It looked as though the Huskies offense was about to produce its first points of the game as Tony Torres rushed and was met just before the goal line by the UMass defense. However, defensive back Warren Wilson came in and stripped Torres as the ball popped in the air and was recovered by Mele in the endzone for a touchback.
Nick O’Malley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.