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February 10, 2016

Leaping penalty among missed opportunities for UMass football in loss to Akron

FOXBORO — About an hour before kickoff on Saturday, Hockey East released a statement with clarification on a ruling that was made that eventually led to the Massachusetts hockey team’s 2-1 loss to Boston College on Thursday night.

Maria Uminski/Collegian

Just hours later, even more confusion emerged on the football field.

Leading 14-13 with one minute, 32 seconds left in the game, Akron lined up for a 25 yard field goal that would put the Zips up 17-13 late, but would at least give the Minutemen one last shot at a comeback victory.

Akron kicker Robert Stein made the kick, but there was a penalty flag on the field. Justin Anderson was given a personal foul for leaping – the first of its kind for UMass this season – to give the Zips first and goal at the 4-yard line.

The Minutemen had just one timeout remaining, so a series of kneel downs was all it took for Akron to wrap up the 14-13 win at Gillette Stadium.

It was the first time UMass coach Charley Molnar, Anderson or any other UMass player had heard of the leaping penalty. It was explained to Molnar by the officials that Anderson was lined up one yard past the line of scrimmage when he jumped and landed on top of the players in front of him, resulting in a personal foul.

“It’s not the act of leaping but landing on the players in front of him,” Molnar said. “I have not seen that called at least in games that I’ve been involved in.

“Doesn’t make it right, doesn’t make it wrong. I’m just saying it’s a call that you’re not gonna see very often. I guess if they called it you’d hope that it’s flagrant.”

Anderson said after the game that not only was it the first time he had ever heard of the penalty, but it’s something he has done numerous times in his career. This occasion just happened to be more costly than any other.

“I’ve done it multiple times, but it’s a part of the game and you live and you learn,” Anderson said. “I won’t do it next week. I can tell you that much.”

It was arguably the most disheartening moment of the afternoon for the Minutemen, especially for the UMass offense, which was warming up on the sideline, hoping for one last chance at some late-game magic.

“Frustrating is probably the best word,” quarterback Mike Wegzyn said. “I was talking to the guys, we were ready to put together a two-minute drive there and kind of getting each other excited, getting revved up, ready to go. And what happened, happened, and the clock ran out and the game was over.”

That moment was only one of many missed opportunities for UMass, however. The Minutemen forced and recovered fumbles on the Zips’ first three possessions and none of them turned into points.

Right after Akron made it 14-13 in the fourth quarter, Tajae Sharpe had his man beat in single coverage deep down the field, but Wegzyn overthrew him and the sophomore receiver couldn’t reel in the diving catch that would’ve put UMass in field goal range.

Later in that possession, the Minutemen had a fourth and 1 at the Akron 47 with 6:39 left in regulation, but Jamal Wilson was stopped for no gain. It ended up being UMass’ final offensive play of the game.

“We had plenty of opportunities to win the football game, to take control of the football game, to take charge,” Molnar said. “It certainly didn’t come down to that last drive and the last sequence of events. Our offense didn’t convert on the fourth down; our defense allowed some first downs along the way and then of course the penalty on special teams. All three were complicit in the last several minutes, but we had opportunities to win the game.

“You can go back to the first quarter when they had three turnovers and offensively, we came up with (nothing) after three turnovers. All of the turnovers were given to us with good momentum and field position.”

Chalk it up as a tough weekend for UMass sports fans.

Nick Canelas can be reached at ncanelas@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.

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