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April 30, 2016

Minutemen playoff dreams on the brink as URI nears

Samantha Webber/Collegian

After playing nearly the entire regular season, the Massachusetts football team finds itself in a position where it can control its own fate. The Minutemen will look to make their case for a postseason berth with a win over conference-rival Rhode Island on the road this Saturday.

While UMass head coach Kevin Morris has preached a “game-to-game” philosophy during the season, he understands the playoff implications with this upcoming contest.

“We’re talking openly about it,” Morris said in his weekly teleconference. “We’re going in with the philosophy that this is a play-in game. I mean, if we want to get in the playoffs and be considered for an invitation, we need to win this football game, certainly.”

Not only will the importance of the game affect the intensity on Saturday, but it’s already affected the intensity of the practices this week.

“We’re coming in with a playoff mentality and trying to get our practice to be of that caliber and put it right out there for the kids to jump on,” Morris said.

The No. 19-ranked Minutemen (6-4, 4-3 Colonial Athletic Association) find themselves with their backs against the wall and in a four-way tie for third place in the CAA standings. After starting the year with a 4-1 record, including a competitive loss to the storied Michigan program, UMass has struggled since. Following their bye week in early October, the Minutemen have managed a 2-3 record, placing their once-likely prospects of making the postseason in jeopardy.

Nevertheless, Morris and the coaching staff don’t want to put pressure on the players, but rather remind them that they’re in position to accomplish a goal.

“We want to treat it as, ‘Hey, let’s get excited,’” Morris said. “’This is why we’re here, we have an opportunity at the end of the year to make the playoffs and that’s our goal. Here we are with that opportunity, so let’s take advantage of it.”

Looking to play spoiler against UMass will be conference-foe URI (4-6, 3-4 CAA). The matchup will be the 85th meeting between the two teams, marking the most for the Minutemen against any opponent in program history.

Along with UMass, which dropped its last contest to No. 1 Delaware, the Rams are coming off a loss at Richmond.

Despite holding the Spiders to three scores for the game and forcing five turnovers, URI couldn’t generate enough offense and fell, 15-6. Quarterback Steve Probst led the Rams with 195 yards in the air and 97 yards on the ground, while completing passes to five different receivers.

URI entered the fourth quarter with a 6-3 lead, but was soon on the losing end when Richmond scored on a 77-yard touchdown pass from quarterback John Laub to Donte Boston to take the lead.

Even though the Rams are coming off a defeat and hold a losing record, Morris isn’t taking them lightly.

“Rhode Island has played very inspired, very aggressive football,” Morris said. “Every game is a tight game, they seem to play everybody well. They’ve had overtime games, they’ve proved all year long and they’re coming out and still playing extremely tough.”

In the all-time series between UMass and URI, the Minutemen hold a 47-35-2 lead, including winning 19 of the last 24 meetings.

Last season, UMass continued its success against the Rams at home with a 30-10 victory. Quarterback Kyle Havens had one his best games of the season, completing 22-of-30 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns. In the ground game, tailback Tony Nelson ran 29 times for a score and 158 yards, marking his ninth career 100-yard game.

The Minutemen will look for a similar result this weekend when the game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. at Meade Stadium in Kingston, R.I.

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

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