FOXBORO – For the first time this season, the Massachusetts football team had reason to celebrate.
On a dismal and dreary day at Gillette Stadium both weather-wise and with the on-field play of both teams, the Minutemen overcame Mid-American Conference foe Miami (Ohio) 17-10, earning their first win of the season and their first all-time in Foxboro in front of 21,707 fans on Band Day.
All season long, UMass (1-5, 1-1 MAC) coach Charlie Molnar preached to his team the importance of the role of “next man up.” On Saturday, that motto stood true.
Khary Bailey-Smith entered the game late in the second quarter after starting safety Antoine Tharpe was ejected for targeting a defenseless receiver, and made his presence felt immediately. Shortly after coming into the game, Bailey-Smith made an impressive one-handed interception in the Miami (0-6, 0-2 MAC) end zone to end a promising Redhawks drive.
However, that wasn’t the only big play Bailey-Smith made.
Bailey-Smith once again stopped a Redhawks drive dead in its tracks in the fourth quarter with another interception off of Miami quarterback Austin Boucher, returning it 25 yards.
“Coached called the right play,” Bailey-Smith said when asked about both interceptions. “I was in the right spot and the ball just happened to come my way.”
Bailey-Smith’s two interceptions, along with 10 tackles, earned one of the game balls from Molnar.
“Khary really exemplifies what we are trying to instill in our young men, and that’s the next man in approach,” Molnar said. “You need to have a guy that steps up and is ready to go, and obviously Khary stepped up with two big football plays today.”
Not only was this win big for the UMass football program, but it meant even more to senior captain Rob Blanchflower.
“I’m so happy for the team, the University and all the loyal fans that have been with us through the ups and downs,” Blanchflower said.
Blanchflower made a highlight-reel grab for the Minutemen in the third quarter after Miami defensive back Dayonne Nunley tipped quarterback A.J. Doyle’s pass. It fell right into Blanchflower’s hands and he ran it 47 yards into the end zone.
“I wanted it back right away,” Doyle said with a grin on his face. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to get chewed out on the sidelines for throwing another pick,’ but when I saw it fall right into (Blanchflower’s) hands and saw him running down the field I was ecstatic.”
The senior tight end had 98 receiving yards and a touchdown on five receptions. The 47-yard reception marked the seventh touchdown of Blanchflower’s career, and it was the longest of his UMass tenure.
Jamal Wilson recorded his second-consecutive performance of over 100 yards, this time doing it both on the ground and in the air. The redshirt sophomore ran for 82 yards on 23 carries to go along with his 64 receiving yards.
“Jamal had another very solid day,” Molnar said. “He does whatever we ask for, totally a team-first guy. Even if he ran for only 10 yards, I would say the same glowing things about Jamal Wilson.”
The Minuteman offense, which averaged just seven points a game entering the contest, slowly made strides throughout. Gaining an impressive 23 first downs on 376 yards of total offense, UMass moved the ball more effectively under the guidance of Doyle.
“He threw two interceptions, but (Doyle) is gaining more confidence and moving around much better,” Molnar said. “He wasn’t 100 percent but he’s definitely getting more and more healthy on a weekly basis.”
UMass will use this momentum into next weekend’s contest as it travels to Buffalo for another tough MAC game.
Andrew Cyr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and can be followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.