Ann Arbor, Mich. — Though the Massachusetts football team was able to keep up with a tradition-rich Michigan program until the final whistle blew, it was the big plays ultimately cost it an upset victory at the Big House on Saturday.
The Wolverines created just enough separation to hold off the Minutemen (2-1, 1-0 Colonial Athletic Association), 42-37, in front of 110,187 fans, easily breaking the record for the highest-attended UMass sporting event ever.
Quarterback Denard Robinson led the high-powered Michigan (3-0) offense with 241 yards in the air and 120 on the ground while accounting for three touchdowns. The early Heisman Trophy favorite completed just 10-of-14 passes, but connected for big plays with wide receiver Darryl Stonum, who caught three passes for 121 yards and two scores.
In the running game, it was tailback Michael Shaw who gashed the Minutemen defense to the tune of 126 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries, an average of 10.5 yards per rush.
“In the second half, they really emphasized the inside zone play and gave the ball to the back,” UMass coach Kevin Morris said after the game. “I guess one thing to take away was that we held Robinson to only about 350 yards, if that’s a bonus, I don’t if it is.”
UMass pounded the rock as well, with its combination of tailbacks in Jonathan Hernandez and John Griffin. Hernandez got the bulk of the work, rushing for 118 yards and two scores on 26 carries, while Griffin accounted for 99 yards on 17 chances himself.
Minutemen quarterback Kyle Havens was efficient throughout the game, going 22-for-29 passing for 222 yards and two touchdowns. The senior drove the ball consistently against the Wolverines defense and made only one mistake on his first interception of the season.
Though the overwhelming expectation was that Michigan would easily take care of UMass, Havens had a strong belief in his team heading into the contest.
“I worked hard, we all worked hard and you don’t work hard to lose,” Havens said. “I don’t want to lose, I know everybody thought they would come in and crush us. Never crossed my mind, I told you guys from the beginning. I thought we were going to win this game.”
Despite the hostile atmosphere, UMass came out of the gate strong and seized a 17-7 lead after a 9-yard run by Hernandez with one minute, 17 seconds remaining in the first half. That’s when momentum shifted as Michigan answered with a quick-strike 66-yard touchdown from Robinson to Stonum, followed by another score by Stonum after a Griffin fumble to take a 21-17 lead into the intermission.
“That was a big swing in the game, obviously score-wise and from us potentially being in the lead at halftime to being down,” Morris said. “So certainly it affected the game but we had our shots in the second half and weren’t able to overcome it.”
The Minutemen never led again as the Wolverines tacked on two more touchdowns in the third quarter to make it 28 unanswered points. After falling into an 18-point hole on two occasions in the second half, however, UMass clawed its way back into the contest with a late surge.
With 5:15 remaining in the game, Havens found wide receiver Julian Talley for a 5-yard score to cut the deficit to 30-42. After a failed two-point conversion, the Minutemen special teams blocked a Will Hagerup punt to take over in Michigan territory.
Havens found tight end Andrew Krevis for his second touchdown of the day on a 7-yard pass to reduce the Wolverines lead to 42-37. With 2:05 remaining and only one timeout at its disposal, UMass went for an onside kick with the hopes of getting another chance to pull off the upset. Butthe onside attempt by kicker Caleb Violette went out of bounds to give the possession to the Wolverines, who picked up a first down to run out the clock.
With the win, Michigan hands the Minutemen their first loss of the season as they move to 2-1.
UMass looks to rebound when it returns to action next week at Stony Brook at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Jay Asser can be reached at email@example.com.