Following consecutive losses for the first time this season, the Massachusetts football team rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat James Madison on the road, 21-14.
The No. 18 Minutemen (5-3, 3-2 Colonial Athletic Association) scored 18 straight points, including 15 in the final quarter, for their largest comeback of the year (11 points).
“Everything’s based on attitude and execution,” UMass coach Kevin Morris said in a post-game interview with UMassathletics.com. “I think in the second half, we might have relaxed a little bit. We might have been a little uptight from the past couple weeks, when we weren’t able to convert as well as we did in the first half of the season. We just came out and relaxed and tried to play our game of football and the guys did an excellent job against a real aggressive and fast defense.”
Quarterback Kyle Havens led UMass in the air with 163 yards and two touchdowns on an efficient 15-for-19 passing. On the ground, tailback Jonathan Hernandez carried the ball 28 times for 137 yards, marking the third time this season the junior has gone over the 100-yard mark.
The Minutemen defense stuffed the Dukes on a key 4th-and-1 play at the JMU 48-yard line with 10 minutes remaining in the contest to give UMass possession. After driving down to the 1-yard line, Havens found tight end Andrew Krevis for his third score of the season to give the Minutemen the lead for good.
“There wasn’t any panic,” Havens said in an interview with UMassathletics.com. “It was actually very calm. Before the game we were hyped up and everything, but at halftime, we were calm. We knew the same thing like all year, we have confidence in the defense, [and] the defense has confidence in us. We know if we play well, we’ll get it done.”
Wide receiver Anthony Nelson, despite being held to a quiet 25 yards on two receptions, made a significant impact on special teams, as he filled in for regular punt returner Julian Talley for a play. Towards the end of the third quarter, Nelson fielded a punt at the UMass 30-yard line and returned it for 53 yards into the red zone.
“At first, I thought it was going to be a regular return, maybe 10 yards,” Nelson said after the game. “Then all of a sudden, Woody Carter just came out of nowhere and sprung a big block for me.”
The Minutemen capped off the short drive with a two-yard touchdown reception by Talley, who finished with a game-high 66 yards on four receptions. Havens found Dan Sheeran on a pass for the two-point conversion to tie the contest at 14 apiece.
Linebacker Tyler Holmes sealed the victory with a 10-yard sack of Dukes quarterback Drew Dudzik with two minutes, 48 seconds left in the game. The junior finished the contest with 14 tackles to lead the Minutemen defense, while senior Mike Mele chipped in with 13 stops.
“We were well prepared,” Holmes said in an interview with UMassathletics.com. “I think the first half we were just a little unsettled with people not doing their jobs and tying to do too much. Second half, we settled down, we were able to play and get a second-half shutout.”
Both of the Dukes’ scores were punched in by tailback Jamal Sullivan, who racked up 73 rushing yards. Dudzik, as well as throwing for 179 passing yards, amassed 98 yards on the ground for a game-high 277 yards of offense.
With the loss, No. 15 JMU drops to 4-4 overall and 1-4 in the CAA.
The Minutemen will return to action next week as they host Maine at 3:30 p.m. at McGuirk Stadium.
Jay Asser can be reached at email@example.com.