Kyle Havens has put up some record-breaking performances as the signal caller for the top-ranked offense in the Colonial Athletic Association this season.
He broke a personal record on Saturday, throwing a career-high three touchdowns and leading UMass to a 39-24 win over Maine.
Havens finished with 231 yards on 22-of-28 attempts, completing passes to all five starters, led by freshman tight end Rob Blanchflower who had a career-high five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown.
Linebacker Tyler Holmes intercepted two passes, taking both back for touchdowns for the first time in Minutemen history, leading a defense which weathered a Black Bears attack in the second half and forced three turnovers.
The Minutemen scored 26 points in the second quarter, its highest total in any quarter this season, en route to a 32-10 halftime lead.
“The kids did a great job of executing,” UMass coach Kevin Morris said. “They took their assignments to task and got the job done.”
Special teams play set the tone at the onset of the game for UMass, continuing its momentum from last week’s game at James Madison. Redshirt freshman Ryan Carter ran the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, giving the Minutemen an early lead.
Last week, a big hit by defensive back Antoine Tharp and a 53-yard punt return by Anthony Nelson keyed an 11-point comeback win against the Dukes. Co-captain Holmes felt that Carter’s kick return had a similar effect on his teammates this week, catalyzing UMass to a dominant first half.
“He set the tone out of the gates,” Holmes said. “We’ve been coming out flat in previous weeks, so we wanted to come out with a lot of spark. Ryan provided that, and I think that gave us a lift to the victory today.”
UMass had its longest drive of the season in the first half, ending with a seven-yard touchdown pass to tailback Jonathan Hernandez with 12 minutes, 41 seconds left in the second quarter to take a 12-0 lead. UMass converted on five third and fourth downs, going 19 plays and 71 yards in nearly nine minutes.
The Minutemen were 3-for-3 on fourth downs and 6-for-6 on third downs in the second quarter (0-5 in the first), holding the ball for over 19 minutes in the first half.
Maine coach Jack Cosgrove believed the Minutemen’s ability to keep the chains moving was a key to his team’s loss.
“I thought they executed well,” Cosgrove said, “Especially in third and fourth downs, they kept their drives alive. We couldn’t get off the field, and as a result, we put ourselves in a large whole.”
Havens entered the game second in the CAA in total offense (233.1 yards per game) and sixth in Minutemen history in passing yards (3,786), attempts (508), and completions (301).
On Oct. 23, Havens threw for a school-record 450 yards in a 39-13 loss to New Hampshire. Last week, he went 15-for-19 for 163 yards and completed two touchdowns in the fourth quarter in a come-from-behind win at JMU.
Havens now has 14 touchdowns and five interceptions on the season, compared to nine touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2009. Morris is impressed with Havens’ ability to manage the game while keeping a premium on possession.
“You continue to take care of the football and good things happen for us offensively,” Morris said. “He’s doing a good job of spreading [the ball] out, seeing his reads, and not trying to force the ball in.”
The Black Bears scored a touchdown with 10:55 remaining in the first half on a 40-yard run by Pushaun Brown to cut the lead to 12-7. The Minutemen answered on their next drive, going 71 yards on 10 plays and scoring a touchdown on a 19-yard pass from Havens to wide receiver Dan Sheeran.
On the ensuing Main drive, Holmes intercepted a Warren Smith pass on 1st-and-20 and returned it 18 yards to push the lead to 25-7. Holmes’ second touchdown came in the second half as the Black Bears were making a comeback.
Maine dominated possession in the third quarter, as Smith engineered a scoring drive to cut the lead to 32-16 on the opening possession of the second half. Smith finished the third quarter by throwing 12-of-13 for 128 yards, leading the Black Bears on a 11-play, 67 yard drive to end which came up short on 4th-and-3 with 14:14 to go in the game.
Hernandez fumbled the ball on the next Minutemen possession and Trevor Coston recovered for Maine on its own 42-yard line. UMass forced the Black Bears into a 4th-and-2 on the ensuing drive, when Holmes picked off a Smith pass and returned it 50 yards for a 39-16 lead.
Maine turned the ball over on two of its next three possessions and Morris said he feels his team’s takeaways were the main reason it was able to win the game.
“The turnovers are the big things,” Morris said. “The stops are great, but the turnovers are what we were lacking. We hadn’t had a turnover in a couple of games and an impact turnover, at that.”
The Minutemen play their final home game on Saturday against Delaware.
Dan Gigliotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.