In what was its last homecoming game at McGuirk Stadium for the foreseeable future, the Massachusetts football team lost to the last place Villanova, 35-17, in front of 10,012 fans.
The Minutemen committed a season-high six turnovers, most of which the Wildcats turned into points.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Hill started in place of redshirt sophomore quarterback Kellen Pagel, who was out with an upper body injury. Although he threw for a career-high 300 yards, Hill never found his rhythm as he threw for one touchdown and three interceptions.
Senior tailback Jonathan Hernandez, UMass’ best offensive player, added two fumbles in his 99-yard rushing effort.
“It’s a very disappointing loss,” said UMass coach Kevin Morris. “The turnovers are the key to the game and the name of the game is ball control and not turn the ball over, we did that tonight and we weren’t able to overcome it… unfortunately [it was] a simple storyline.
“Six turnovers on the day and that’s going to be hard to win any CAA ballgame,” added Morris. “It’s going to put a lot of pressure on the defense and special teams.”
In the postgame conference, Villanova coach Andy Talley revealed a cut-out newspaper article detailing the woes of the Wildcats season which he said he used to motivate his players.
“This was good stuff,” said Talley, referring to the article. “It was good motivation [and] obviously our little kitty cats turned into Wildcats today.”
Villanova freshman running back Jamal Abdur-Rahman had a game-high 169 all-purpose yards (62 rushing, 62 receiving and 45 return) and a touchdown and senior defensive back James Pitts had three interceptions to lead the Wildcats.
The win gave the Villanova (2-8 overall, 1-6 CAA) its first conference win of the season, as the Minutemen fell to 5-4 overall.
UMass set the tone early, coming up with a defensive stop on Villanova’s first possession.
The Minutemen’s first offensive play was a 12-yard completion to senior receiver Julian Talley, who finished with a career-high 11 receptions for 155 yards and a touchdown. Talley and Hernandez controlled the rest of the drive which ended with 24-yard field goal from Brandon Levengood to put UMass up, 3-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was ugly for the Minutemen who surrendered 21 consecutive points before scoring again. On consecutive drives, Hill threw two interceptions to Villanova’s James Pitts, both of which led to Wildcat touchdowns.
The Minutemen responded with one minute, 25 seconds left in the second when redshirt freshman Matt Campbell recorded his first career touchdown, a 1-yard rush which put UMass within two scores.
The Wildcats answered on the following drive, as freshman quarterback Chris Polony threw his third touchdown of the game to junior receiver Dorian Wells to make it 28-10 Villanova at the half.
UMass made it 28-17 with 11:40 left in the third quarter as Hill found Talley for a 12-yard touchdown pass.
The UMass defense stepped up on Villanova’s next three possessions, forcing two three-and-outs and a turnover on downs but was unable to capitalize.
“It’s just frustrating because we know we’re a lot better than we showed tonight,” said senior tight end Emil Igwenagu, who finished with just two receptions for 13 yards. “A lot of plays we gave up – we usually make those.”
Villanova’s Lawrence Doss capped the scoring and sealed the win for the Wildcats with a 7-yard touchdown run late in the third which finalized the score, 35-17.
“I don’t think at any point until the bitter end did we think we were going to lose the ballgame,” said Morris. “Our guys play with a lot of confidence and we certainly have enough guys to execute and get things done.”
Steve Levine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @MDC_Levine.