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May 14, 2016

A.J. Doyle gets starting nod for UMass football season finale

The first time something like this happened, A.J. Doyle couldn’t hold in his nerves.

Taylor C. Snow/Collegian

Four years ago, then a high school freshman at Catholic Memorial, Doyle was getting a ride to school from his father before his first varsity start at quarterback. Suddenly, Doyle asked his father to pull the car over.

“He pulled over and I immediately opened the door and threw up,” Doyle said.

Now, four years later, Doyle will make his first collegiate start as a member of the Massachusetts football team when it takes on Central Michigan on Friday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

He hopes, this time, he can hold in the butterflies.

“People were asking me the other day when they saw me getting reps with the (first team), ‘Oh you’re going to be the starter, how are you feeling, how are you feeling?’” Doyle said. “I said, ‘Ask me on Friday morning when I’m throwing up.’

“I hope I’m not like that, but there’s always a possibility.”

The choice to start Doyle comes after redshirt freshman Mike Wegzyn started the first 11 games under center. UMass coach Charley Molnar said on Wednesday that a decision was made during the team’s bye week that Wegzyn would start the Akron game and continue to start as long as the Minutemen kept winning.

After UMass beat the Zips, Wegzyn was given another shot. But after the team’s loss to Buffalo last Saturday, Molnar wanted to see what his true freshman signal-caller – who has appeared in seven games this season in strictly mop-up duty when the game was out of reach – could do when given a start.

“It’s not as much of an indictment on Mike as it’s just an indication that A.J.’s performance in practice has improved,” Molnar said. “And he’s a viable candidate to compete for the starting quarterback job at UMass not only for the last week of the season but going forward into the future.”

Standing in Doyle’s and the Minutemen’s (1-10, 1-6 Mid-American Conference) way in Friday’s finale will be a Chippewas (5-6, 3-4 MAC) team that is just one win away from becoming bowl-eligible.

After a four-game losing streak earlier this season dropped CMU to 2-5, bowl aspirations seemed bleak, but since then, the Chippewas have won three out of their last four games, including their last two against Eastern Michigan and most recently Miami (Ohio).

CMU features an explosive and balanced offensive attack led by quarterback Ryan Radcliff and running back Zurlon Tipton. Radcliff has 2,823 passing yards with 19 touchdowns to eight interceptions this season while Tipton enters Friday’s contest with 1,206 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.

“We have got to be able to stop the run game without committing so many men to stopping the run that we get shredded in the pass game,” Molnar said earlier this week. “That balance on defense is critical for the guys who are responsible for stopping the run and they need to play their gaps. Nobody needs to try to do too much, just do their job as well as they can.”

Friday’s game marks the last for a number of UMass players. Senior day ceremonies will take place prior to the game to honor the seniors, who include, most notably, Darren Thellen, Perry McIntyre, Quinton Sales and Alan Williams, among others.

“It’s an added incentive to send those seniors off with a win,” Doyle said.

Friday’s kickoff is set for 3 p.m.

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at shewitt@student.umass.edu and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.

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