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November 30, 2016

Sheeran, Blanchflower receiving chances with Minutemen

In the 31-7 win for the Massachusetts football team on Saturday night against Holy Cross, UMass quarterback Kyle Havens found two targets who scored their first career touchdowns.

During the offensive barrage by the Minutemen on their final five possessions of the first half, wide receiver Dan Sheeran and tight end Rob Blanchflower each got into the end zone. Sheeran’s score came first on a 19-yard touchdown reception to put UMass up 7-0, a lead that wouldn’t be challenged the rest of the night. After scores by tailbacks John Griffin and Jonathan Hernandez, Blanchflower caught a three-yard pass on a play-action to make the score 21-0.

For Sheeran, it’s been a journey from Syracuse to UMass for the final two years of his career. As a redshirt junior in 2009, he played in all 11 games and caught four passes for 35 yards. As well as lining up as a receiver in the offense, Sheeran saw lots of action on special teams.

This season, he’s caught four passes for 77 yards through two contests, making him the second-leading receiver on the Minutemen roster behind transfer Anthony Nelson.

“It’s been a long road for me at Syracuse not playing much and last year not playing much,” Sheeran said after the win over the Crusaders. “I just kept at it, kept working hard and I knew my time would eventually come. It’s definitely satisfying to have all the hard work pay off.”

Though he wasn’t one of the main options in the passing game last season, Sheeran’s talent isn’t lost on UMass coach Kevin Morris.
“He’s a guy who could have played a bunch for us, we just had some quality wide receivers,” Morris said. “He was in the mix but he certainly wasn’t the focal point. This year he’s right in the mix with us and he’s going to continue making plays for us.”
While Sheeran is in his fifth year of eligibility, Blanchflower is a redshirt freshman who is making a mark early in his career.

In 2009, the Leominster native worked with the scout team and traveled to early season games, but never saw action. This season, Blanchflower has four receptions for 26 yards, with the majority of those numbers coming in the win against Holy Cross. More importantly, the tight end was able to fill in more than adequately for captain Emil Igwenagu, who sat out Saturday night with what Morris called an injury precaution.

“[Blanchflower] played a lot in Game 1 as well as our second tight end, and also played some of the first tight end in that game,” Morris said. “Rob came and did an excellent job and got his name on the board with the points, which is great for him and it just happened to be the play that we ran at that time. He’s a redshirt freshman but he’s really come a long way in the one year, and we’re excited about his future.”

Both Blanchflower and Sheeran bolster a strong UMass offense which is averaging 29.0 points per game so far this year. The Minutemen have outrushed opponents to the tune of 447 yards to 156, while throwing for 516 yards compared to opponents’ 391. The offense has been especially sharp in the red zone, scoring a touchdown on 70 percent of their opportunities.

If UMass plans on earning a huge upset win over Michigan this Saturday at Ann Arbor, Sheeran and Blanchflower will need to build off their career-performances this past weekend.

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

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