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UMass football nearly upends Tennessee Saturday in 17-13 loss

(Caroline O’Connor / Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts football team came so close to an upset.

Taking on the University of Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday afternoon, the Univerity of Massachusetts (0-5) almost pulled off the unthinkable in its showdown with the Vols.

Down 17-6 in the third quarter, redshirt junior quarterback Andrew Ford hit sophomore wide receiver Sadiq Palmer in the end zone, on a 13-yard touchdown pass, to make it a one score game at 2:51.

With over 15 minutes left in regulation, the Minutemen had ample opportunities to clinch the victory, but were unable to put enough pressure on the Tennessee defense, falling 17-13 at Neyland Stadium.

“I’m proud of the way they played,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said to Matt Vautour of the Daily Hampshire Gazette. “We wanted to get it to a one possession game in the fourth quarter and we did, but we just couldn’t make the play we needed to get us over the top.”

Ford (11-17, 129 yards, TD) was sacked hard on the next Minuteman drive by Elliott Berry and came up lame. He did not return to the game following that hit, leaving redshirt junior Ross Comis as the man under-center for the remainder of the afternoon.

Comis couldn’t muster much, throwing for just 8 yards on 2-5 passing.

“It’s my job to come in. I have to come out and make some more plays,” Comis said to Vautour. “We have to win that game. That’s on me. … We had the chance. The defense played unbelievable and kept giving us the ball back.”

The Volunteers (3-1, 0-1 SEC East) posted the game’s first touchdown when running back John Kelly found a seam, and ran 12 yards for the score at 4:43 of the first quarter.

That run kick-started a great game for Kelly, who finished the contest with 101 rushing yards and a touchdown, on 25 attempts.

The Minutemen responded less than two minutes later on a 5-yard rushing touchdown by Comis, to make it a one-point game. Redshirt freshman kicker Michael Schreiner missed the extra-point, leaving the score 7-6 UT.

In what turned out to be a back-breaker, the Vols scored with just 25 seconds left in the half on an 8-yard connection from Quinten Dormady (17-27, 187 yards, TD) to Tyler Byrd, making it 14-6.

UT added a 40-yard field goal off the foot of Aaron Medley at 7:32 of the third quarter, to extend its lead to 17-6.

Next came Ford’s touchdown pass to Palmer and things were looking up for UMass, however that proved to be the last score on either side, rounding out a surprisingly competitive game from the Minutemen.

“We played better than them. They’re a heck of a team obviously,” junior linebacker Bryton Barr told Vautour. “Eliminate a couple mistakes and we’re winning that game. We have to put this behind us and get ready for Ohio.”

Barr (12 tackles) led a UMass defense that played tough against a UT team that was nationally ranked just a week ago.

Allowing 17 points, and 319 total yards to the Vols, the Minutemen actually out-rushed the home team Saturday, registering 144 yards on the ground, to 135 from UT.

Credit can be given to junior running back Marquis Young, who led the UMass ground game, rushing for 76 yards on 14 attempts.

Time of possession also favored the Minutemen as they held the ball for 30 minutes, 28 seconds, while the Vols held possession for 29 minutes, 32 seconds.

Junior wide receiver Andy Isabella hauled in the most yards for UMass, catching three passes for 46 yards, including a 36-yard completion from Ford.

Adam Breneman was not available Saturday, as the redshirt senior tight end is still recovering from injury.

“We’re better. We’re playing the run better. Guys believe in each other,” Whipple said to Vautour. “We came down here and there wasn’t any flinch at all. They battled and we grew as a team.”

Ryan Ames can be reached at rames@umass.edu or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.

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