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UMass to close out 2009 against Hofstra on road

On paper, Saturday’s game doesn’t have much importance for the Massachusetts football team. In the standings, New Hampshire has already locked up the Colonial Athletic Association North Division race, while UMass is stuck in third place.

Ask the Minutemen (5-5, 3-4 CAA), though, and you’ll get a much different answer about the importance of their last game of the season.

“It’s about pride now, going out with a winning record,” senior defensive end Michael Hanson said, one of 19 seniors playing in his last collegiate game this weekend. “It’s the one they say you remember forever, your last game, so it’s big for us to win.”

As a team, Hofstra comes into the game as much as a middle-of-the-road team as is possible in the CAA. The Pride (4-5, 2-5 CAA), enter the game, statistically, in the middle of the conference in most respects. While not spectacular in any particular area, the Pride have also avoided being at the bottom in any particular aspect, a feature of balance that UMass coach Kevin Morris says makes them a tough opponent.

Even if the last game of the season isn’t coming in the playoffs like the Minutemen had hoped, Morris said that he sees the final game of the season as something to cherish.

“Any opportunity to play together is never lackluster,” Morris said. “It might be a little disappointing and frustrating not being where we want to be, but our favor’s in our hands, and a lot of it is the turnovers and not completing ball games, and we’re 5-5.”

Hofstra is currently 10th in the CAA in scoring offense, but with the help of quarterbacks Cory Christopher and Steve Probst, the Pride have the fourth best passing offense in the conference. Helping in the passing game are Aaron Weaver, who ranks second in the CAA with 5.33 receptions per game, and Anthony Nelson (35 catches for 449 yards).

Meanwhile, Hofstra also features the seventh best rushing offense in the conference at 132.5 yards per game, just under seven yards below UMass’ mark of 145.1 yards per game.

In the running game, the Pride have five players that have received over 50 carries on the season, two of which are quarterbacks Christopher and Probst. In fact, Probst holds a team-high mark of 48.8 yards per game in the six games in which he has played.

True freshman Miguel Maysonet leads the way for the team’s backs with 75 carries for 399 yards. Sophomore Kwabena Asante is fourth on the team with 54 carries and 266 yards, while fullback Everette Benjamin is fifth with 55 carries and 246 yards in eight games to fill out the crowded Pride backfield.

On the defensive side of the ball, Hofstra ranks eighth in the conference in scoring defense, giving up 21.4 points per game. In terms of yardage given up, the Pride have fared much better, ranking third and fifth in passing and rushing defense, respectively.

“Defensively, Luke Bonus is one of the better linebackers in the league, and he’s been a four-year starter for them. He anchors their whole defense. [The defense is] very active up front, not a lot of base defensive looks, they’re going to blitz you to keep you off balance,” Morris said.

The bane of the Minutemen this season – turnovers – emerged once again in their loss last week to James Madison, as they turned over the ball on their first three offensive possessions. In its last four games, UMass turned over the ball 17 times, going 1-3. The sole win during that stretch came against Northeastern, where the only turnover was an interception with the game already in hand.

According to Morris, success against the Pride will come from consistent play and avoiding mistakes, something that the coach has preached all season.

“If we play our game – I’m going to be repetitive – If we play UMass football, don’t turn it over, I like our chances,” Morris said.

Morris sees that potential for a winning season as a large factor heading into this weekend’s game, as it would mark a positive end to what has largely been an up-and-down season for the Minutemen.

“Well, it would be a winning season, and the kids certainly deserve that,” Morris said of what it would mean to win Saturday’s game. “They played hard enough to win some games, and we know we gave some games away. When we give them away it’s frustrating, so we’re looking to finish on a good note.”   

Morris’ players reflect his sentiment, taking the season for what it’s worth, tough losses and all.

“You never know what can happen in the course of a season,” Hanson said. “A lot of ups and downs this season and it wasn’t our year. But we don’t put our heads down, we just keep on fighting to the end and try to get this win for our last game.”

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

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