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Monday, August 24, 2015

Minutemen return to McGuirk for matchup with Black Bears

Samantha Webber/Collegian

After playing one home game in its last six contests, the Massachusetts football team will host conference rival Maine at McGuirk Stadium on Saturday as it looks to win consecutive games for the first time since after the bye week.

“We have to play harder than [Maine] down here, it’s our home turf,” UMass coach Kevin Morris said in his weekly teleconference. “We’re finally back home and we’ve had one home game in about seven weeks. So we’ll be excited to be back home and defend the home turf and have a great contest against Maine.”

The No. 15 Minutemen (5-3, 3-2 Colonial Athletic Association) are fresh off a come-from-behind victory over James Madison to break a two-game losing streak. UMass’ offense scored 18 consecutive points, including 15 in the fourth quarter, while the defense shut out the Dukes in the second half to earn the 21-14 win.

The Black Bears (3-5, 2-3), meanwhile have had two weeks to prepare after not seeing action since Oct. 23 against Rhode Island. With its bye week, Maine has an advantage heading into the matchup with UMass, something which Morris recognizes.

“It doesn’t change our game plan, but it certainly, I imagine, helps their game plan,” Morris said. “[Maine coach] Jack [Cosgrove] has another week to get healthy and he had some guys banged up like we all do at this time of the year. So he has that advantage going in to get guys healthy and he mentioned he had a good Sunday practice, so they get the extra day ahead of us.”

Against URI on the road, the Black Bears held onto their lead just long enough to survive a rally from the Rams. Despite leading 21-10 late in the third quarter and 28-17 in the fourth quarter, Maine allowed URI to close the gap to five points.

After punting, the Black Bears’ defense had its backs against the wall as the Rams got to the one-yard line with one second remaining in the contest. Maine, however, preserved the 28-23 victory as they made a stop on the final play.

“They’re coming off a big win at Rhode Island where they stopped Rhode Island on the last play from the [one-yard line], so it’s a great high to go into the off-week with,” Morris said.

In the all-time series with the Black Bears, UMass holds a 40-15-1 lead, dating back to 1909. Maine, however, has won the last two meetings after the Minutemen won the previous six contests. The games have been fairly close though, as four contests in the last seven years have been decided by eight points or less, including three by one point.

The two teams met last year on Halloween when the Black Bears handed UMass a 19-9 loss. Despite linebacker Tyler Holmes finishing the game with 16 tackles to lead the Minutemen defense, Maine quarterback Warren Smith was too much to handle.

Smith threw for 226 yards and rushed for 54, while being a part of both of the Black Bears’ touchdowns.

“The Warren Smith kid, we know him very well,” Morris said. “He does a great job distributing the ball. I like their offensive line and they’ve had some really quality games offensively and defensively both.”
This season, Smith ranks fourth in the CAA in passing yards per game at 182.5, behind UMass’ Kyle Havens who leads the conference at 234.8.

Maine’s offense relies heavily on the passing game, with the rushing attack ranking second to last in the league at 126.6 yards per game.

The Minutemen will look to increase their chances of making the postseason with another conference win when the game kicks off this Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

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

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