Massachusetts football coach Kevin Morris said his team needs to avoid making mistakes in order to win on the road against conference opponents.
The Minutemen did not play error-free this weekend, but still managed to claim victory against Towson on Saturday.
UMass (4-1, 2-0 Colonial Athletic Association) overcame three first half turnovers and a seven-point deficit to beat the Tigers 27-14.
Towson (1-4, 0-2 CAA) forced the Minutemen into three fumbles on its first six possessions to take a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter.
Catalyzed by some strong defense, UMass scored 20 unanswered points, including 10 in the second half, en route to its second conference win of the season.
After the game, Morris was pleased with the way his team responded to adversity.
“The character of our team is such that when we get down, we don’t get out,” Morris said. “We keep battling, fighting and sticking to the plan.”
The Minutemen compiled 386 net yards, including 192 on the ground. Tailback John Griffin rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, while Jonathan Hernandez complemented him with 60 yards on 19 carries and one touchdown.
Griffin extended the UMass lead to 27-14 on a five-yard touchdown run with 14 minutes to play in the game.
“Once I realized that their D was getting a little tired,” Griffin said, “that’s when I knew I had to pick it up. Me and Jon [Hernandez], one of our mottos is that we never get tired, we always have fresh legs. The minute I see a sign of someone getting tired on the defense, that’s when I know I have to go hard.”
Quarterback Kyle Havens went 15-for-27 with 194 yards and one touchdown.
Linebackers Tyler Holmes (18 tackles) and Mike Mele (13) both recorded career-highs in tackles as the Minutemen defense held the Tigers scoreless in the final two quarters.
UMass made a goal-line stand in the second quarter, atoning for a special teams turnover, and later forced two Towson turnovers-on-downs in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
Holmes, who had three tackles for loss and a sack, spoke about the effectiveness of his defense, especially in stopping the Tigers on fourth-and-goal.
The Minutemen broke the scoring drought on a one-yard run by Hernandez halfway through the first quarter. The run capped a 12-play, 67-yard drive, UMass’ longest of the game, lasting over five minutes.
After a Towson three-and-out on its next drive, the Tigers scored their first touchdown on a UMass turnover. Cornerback Jeremy Gardner forced a turnover, going after Havens on his own 3-yard line. Defensive tackle Marcus Valentine recovered the loose ball and ran it into the end zone to tie the game at seven.
With less than three minutes to play in the opening frame, Towson forced its second turnover of the night. Doug Shaw recovered a muffed punt by returner Shane Viveiros and returned it to the UMass 23-yard line.
After a 1st-and-goal at the 9-yard line, the Tigers ran it three straight times to move the ball down to the one. But on fourth-and-goal, defensive lineman Theo Agnew and Mele stopped Towson tailback Dominique Booker.
UMass took a 17-14 lead just before going into the locker room on a 10-yard pass from Havens to Anthony Nelson with 29 seconds left in the half.
“It’s a great win for UMass on the road, against a good Towson football team,” Morris said. “It was certainly a battle for four quarters, right down to the end. We’re excited to come away with a big victory.”
Dan Gigliotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.