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March 22, 2017

Minutemen look for second-straight win against Crusaders in night clash

Samantha Webber/Collegian

Coming off an impressive come-from-behind victory in its opening game, the Massachusetts football team hosts Holy Cross at McGuirk Stadium on Saturday night before its ballyhooed trip to Ann Arbor to face storied Michigan.

Though fans may be looking ahead to next week, UMass coach Kevin Morris hasn’t had any difficulty keeping his players’ attention on the Crusaders.

“These guys are totally focused on Holy Cross,” Morris said. “There’s no one in our locker room talking about Michigan yet or anything like that. Everybody was certainly interested in the Michigan-UConn score, maybe because it’s a local team in UConn so I would have been interested in that score anyways. We know [Michigan] is on our schedule, we’re not talking about Michigan at all but it was interesting to look at the score.”

In its first game, the Crusaders (1-0) routed Howard, 38-7, behind seniors Ryan Taggart and Bill Edger. Taggart made the first start of his collegiate career and completed 17 of 29 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns, while Edger caught seven of those passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. After leading 24-0 in the third quarter, the Crusaders tacked on two more scores in the fourth with a 10-yard run by sophomore tailback Sam Auffant and an 85-yard punt return by senior wide receiver Freddie Santana.

Taggart is taking over for former signal-caller Dominic Randolph, who broke the all-time Holy Cross and Patriot League records for career passing yards. The Amelia, Ohio native became the first quarterback in conference history with over 10,000 passing yards, completing 857 of 1,357 passes for 10,093 yards and 85 touchdowns in his career.

“He looked very good, he looked like he’s been playing for years,” Morris said of Taggart. “Similar to [William & Mary’s Mike Callahan], he doesn’t have a lot of reps, but a kid that understands the system. They haven’t changed the offense that [Randolph] had a great career with so it’s not like, ‘Hey, this kid can’t do what Randolph did.’ The Taggart kid came in and did a great job in game one and looked like he’s ready to take up where Randolph left off.”

In the 48 meetings between Holy Cross and UMass, the Minutemen lead the all-time series, 22-21-5. UMass, however, has won the last seven contests with the most recent victory for the Crusaders coming on Sept. 14, 1991.

The last matchup between the two programs came two years ago and resulted in a shootout in Worcester. UMass edged out Holy Cross, 45-42, in a 14-point comeback win on the strength of an Armando Cuko 42-yard field goal as time expired. Quarterback Liam Coen led the Minutemen attack, throwing for 395 yards on 25-for-36 passing and three touchdowns, while tailback Tony Nelson scored twice on the ground.

Morris isn’t predicting another high-scoring affair but said that the game pace would dictate the offensive play calling. Last week, UMass leaned on the running game as tailbacks Jonathan Hernandez and John Griffin combined for over 200 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Holy Cross marks the only game for the Minutemen this season in which they play under the lights at home.

“I think it’s kind of nasty,” Morris said. “That’s why we got the turf, we’ve got the lights and we play at night. This is our one 6 p.m. start so hopefully the fans will come out and support the guys after a great game one. The night game against an in-state rival, it should be a great atmosphere.”

Jay Asser can be reached at jasser@student.umass.edu.

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