Jonathan Hernandez’s career game did not come as a surprise for either coach at the Massachusetts football team’s home opener against Rhode Island on Saturday.
Hernandez, senior running back, ran for a career-high 167 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Minutemen over their CAA rival Rams, 37-26, on Sunday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
“[Hernandez] is a great player, [he’s] tough, [he’s] not real big but he’s fast,” said URI coach Joe Trainer. “The first [defender] rarely brings him down. He always has great body lean, [he’s] always moving forward, he’s got great leg drive and great vision. He’s as good a back as there is not just in this conference but at this level.”
Despite carrying the ball 32 times, Hernandez wasn’t too concerned about the physical toll on his body.
“I’m a little banged up,” he said. “[I’ll] feel it more in the morning but I’m good. I’ll just go in the ice tub and get ready for [Sunday’s] lift.”
Hernandez’ performance followed up his stellar season-opening effort on Sept. 1, when he rushed for 151 yards in UMass’ 24-16 win over Holy Cross.
“I’m just trying to run the ball hard,” said Hernandez. “I’m trying to do my best for my teammates and I don’t want to let anybody down.”
Pagel wins the starting job
After months of competition, the starting quarterback job was officially awarded to redshirt sophomore Kellen Pagel.
Pagel was competing for the job throughout summer camp along with the other quarterbacks. In the season-opener, Pagel and redshirt freshman Brandon Hill split reps, with Pagel completing 10-of-16 pass attempts for 104 yards and two touchdowns and Hill finishing 5-of-8 for 30 yards.
However, after a competitive bye week on the practice fields, UMass coach Kevin Morris felt that Pagel deserved the starting job.
“We compete every day in practice,” said Morris, who is in his third year as head coach. “[Pagel] earned the job over the course of the bye week in practice. He got the opportunity to start here tonight. It wasn’t like he was given the position, like every position we have across the board you have to earn your job every day… Right now Kellen’s our starting quarterback absolutely.”
Pagel had a shaky start against in the home-opener, throwing two interceptions before settling down. He finished 21-for-32 for 259 yards, two touchdowns (one rushing), and two interceptions.
Tailgate excites Minutefans
As is tradition at UMass, fans gathered outside McGuirk Stadium hours before the game to tailgate. Thousands of students and local citizens showed up on Sunday for the first tailgate of the year, many excited to watch the Minutemen stay undefeated in their 2011 campaign.
“The tailgate gets me so amped for the game,” said Carolyn Webber, a senior at UMass. “Everybody who goes to UMass gets brought together by the tailgate.”
“Everyone is here, everyone is in UMass gear and everyone is having a good time,” added senior Jackie Stackhouse.
Many of the tailgaters stayed for the game, as 11,167 people were in attendance.
“I think it gets everybody going,” said Hernandez. “On the bus ride here from the hotel, the team sees [the tailgate and] it gets us going, it gives us energy and we feed off that… I don’t want people coming to tailgate and then leaving, I know some of them do that but we had a good crowd out there today and we were excited.”
The tailgate included a mix of alumni, students and faculty – all of which share pride for the Maroon and White.
“Everyone gets to come together at the tailgate and take that intensity inside the stadium,” said Matt Turner, a senior cadet for Army ROTC. “There’s a lot of camaraderie built around the team this year because the team is going Division I and the stakes will be higher. Everyone’s more excited and more willing to support the football team.”
Steve Levine can be reached at email@example.com.