The No. 18 Minutemen capitalized on a Crusader turnover and an onside kick recovery to take a 31-0 halftime lead.
“We wanted to come out and have a great start, and we got up early,” UMass coach Kevin Morris said. “That’s certainly where we wanted to be at the end of the half.”
Junior captain Tyler Holmes forced a fumble and caught an interception, helping the Minutemen win possession for nearly 40 minutes and 91 plays.
Holy Cross managed 213 total yards of offense, including 69 yards in the first half. Crusader coach Tom Gilmore was unhappy with his team’s lackluster performance.
“We just didn’t go out there and play,” Gilmore said. “We didn’t do anything real well and we weren’t playing that hard. I don’t know if playing at our best would have beaten this UMass team, but you should know that after a game and I don’t. That’s extremely disappointing.”
The Minutemen finished the night with 525 yards in total offense (232 rushing, 293 passing). Quarterback Kyle Havens found seven different receivers, completing 25-of-38 pass attempts en route to 293 yards and two touchdowns.
The Minutemen tailback tandem of John Griffin and Jonathan Hernandez combined for 148 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries, leading a ground attack that surpassed 200 yards for the second week in a row.
Senior wideout Anthony Nelson led UMass in catches and yards with eight for 103 yards while redshirt senior wide receiver Dan Sheeran and redshirt freshman tight end Rob Blanchflower each had their first career touchdown receptions.
The Minutemen found the end zone on four consecutive drives in the first half. They out-gained the Crusaders by almost 300 yards while netting 21 first downs before heading into the locker room.
UMass broke into the scoring column on a 19-yard pass touchdown to Sheeran midway through the first quarter. Hernandez’s runs, along with a 19-yard reception by Julian Talley put the Maroon and White in red zone territory to set up the first score of the game.
UMass forced Holy Cross to turn the ball over on its next possession, when Holmes broke through the Crusader frontline to force a Sam Auffant fumble four yards deep in the backfield. Redshirt freshman Theo Agnew recovered the ball on the opposing 42-yard line, and set up the offense for its second touchdown of the game.
Havens completed a 28-yard pass to Sheeran on the next play to move the Minutemen to the Holy Cross 14-yard line. On third down and seven, Nelson gave UMass a first-and-goal on the one-yard line. He leapt head-first down the sideline, just missing the pylon before being upended out of bounds. Two plays later, Griffin scampered into the end zone untouched for his third touchdown of the season.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Minutemen special teams unit successfully converted an onside kick and marched downfield for 11 plays, 57 yards and a score. The drive ended with a one-yard Hernandez rushing touchdown with about 13 minutes left in the second quarter.
“We had scored the second touchdown, and we wanted to capitalize on the momentum,” Morris said about the decision to attempt an onside kick. “It was definitely a high risk, but we went with the high risk, high reward play.”
UMass scored on its next possession to push its lead to 28-0. Rob Blanchflower caught a three-yard pass from Havens in the end zone with five and a half minutes to play, ending the Minutemen’s longest drive of the game at 14 plays and 81 yards.
UMass won its eighth-straight contest against the Crusaders, who are the reigning champions of the Patriot League and came into the game tied with Colgate for No. 25 in the Sportsnetwork.com polls.
Gilmore was more frustrated with the way that his team performed than he was impressed by the Minutemen’s play.
“I was not surprised at the level of this team,” Gilmore said. “They’re a good football team, but we didn’t go out and play to our ability. We didn’t need UMass on the field to expose how poorly we were playing and that’s not taking anything away from [them].”
The win comes on the heels of a close victory in UMass’ home opener against then No. 4 William & Mary on Sept. 4. With two straight wins to begin the season, coach Kevin Morris’ players can now focus on this weekend’s highly anticipated match-up, as they travel to Ann Arbor on Saturday to face the Michigan Wolverines.
“[The players] are well aware of the opportunity,” Morris said. “Everyone knows Michigan. They are traditionally one of the best programs in the country year in and year out. We have to press on the guys that we need to just play our game and not get over-impressed or under-impressed, one way or another. We’re just going to have to play our football game and do it in practice.”
Notes: This was the 49th meeting between UMass and Holy Cross, dating back to 1897. The Minutemen lead the series 23-21-5… UMass had two punts blocked in Saturday’s game. It was the first time the Minutemen allowed a blocked punt in their last 12 games dating back to its season opener on Sept. 5, 2009 against Kansas State… Sheeran’s 28-yard pass reception in the second quarter also marked his longest career reception… UMass is now 8-0 in all time in night games played at McGuirk Stadium… The Minutemen were penalized 11 times for 104 yards. They rank last in the Colonial Athletic Association in penalties with 19 for 185 yards through two games… Marcus Camby threw the ceremonial coin toss, joined by the rest of the class of UMass Hall-of-Fame inductees… It was Community Heroes Day as the Minutemen honored all police, fire, rescue, military, and non-profit personnel for the anniversary of the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11, 2001… 16, 352 people were in attendance. It marked the 15th largest crowd in the history of McGuirk stadium and the third time attendance has surpassed 15,000 since 2004.
Dan Gigliotti can be reached at email@example.com.