Holding on for the win

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Michael Phillis/Collegian

If Chris Koepplin had connected on the 48-yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation, it would have been an exciting ending to a good game.

But little did the 16,174 fans in attendance know, when the attempt hit the left upright and fell to the ground, it would lead to a great game and an even better ending.

The Massachusetts football team escaped McGuirk Stadium with a thrilling, quadruple overtime victory, 32-24, over Villanova on Saturday. The marathon game ended when Villanova’s fourth-and-goal pass went through the hands of receiver Anton Ridley in the end zone, causing the UMass sideline to erupt and storm onto the field.

“I can’t remember being involved in a game with that much excitement,” UMass coach Don Brown said. “It was a great football game. It was a dogfight.”

Much of that excitement came in the four overtimes and in the final few minutes of regulation, when the Minutemen tied the score at 14-14 on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Liam Coen to Joe Sanford. The big play came a few plays earlier, when offensive lineman Sean Calicchio recovered Coen’s fumble after he was sacked by Terence Thomas.

After a three-and-out by the Wildcats, UMass got the ball back with 20 seconds remaining, and Coen hit J.J. Moore for a 30-yard strike to the Villanova 26-yard line.

Without a timeout, the Minutemen (5-1, 3-0 Colonial Athletic Association) quickly spiked the ball to stop the clock with 12 seconds remaining. UMass failed to get the next play off in time and was called for a delay of game penalty, bringing the ball back five yards. After an incomplete pass, Koepplin missed his attempt to win the game from 48 yards out as time expired, forcing overtime.

The Minutemen appeared to have control of the game in the first overtime when linebacker Jason Hatchell intercepted Wildcat (4-3, 2-2 CAA) quarterback Chris Whitney in the end zone off a tipped pass. But UMass tailback Matt Lawrence fumbled on third down on the ensuing possession, negating what would have resulted in a 34-yard field goal attempt by Koepplin for the victory.

Lawrence bounced back in the second overtime, scoring on a 4-yard touchdown run after Coen’s 15-yard pass to Moore. But the game would head to another overtime, as Whitney capped off his 26 yards rushing on the drive on a 9-yard touchdown run. The game came close to ending on Whitney’s second carry of the overtime, as Hatchell popped the ball loose – but it came right back into the hands of the Villanova signal-caller.

In the following overtime the teams traded field goals, with Villanova connecting first from 41 yards out and UMass afterward from 23 yards.

UMass wasted little time in the fourth overtime session. Coen hit Michael Omar for 14 yards and Lawrence ran it in the rest of the way for his second touchdown after regulation. Coen and Moore hooked up for the two point conversion, giving the Minutemen an 8-point lead.

Villanova appeared to be in some trouble on third down and long, but Whitney – just as he did for much of the game – scrambled in the pocket and escaped for a 15-yard gain. After a 1-yard run by Phil Atkinson, Whitney threw two incompletions, setting up a fourth-and-goal at the UMass 7-yard line.

After buying time with his legs, Whitney threw the ball up to the left side of the end zone, looking for Ridley. The 6-foot-4 Ridley leaped up high in the air and extended his arms – looking to haul in the high pass from Whitney. With Hatchell and Jeromy Miles all over him, the ball slipped through the hands of Ridley and fell to the ground.

“Well, obviously it was an outstanding game,” Villanova coach Andy Talley said. “It was probably as good an effort in 23 years at Villanova as we’ve ever had.”

The overtime periods – full of big plays and big-time excitement – were vastly different to the action in the first half. UMass had no success on offense in the first half, accumulating just five first downs and going 1-for-6 on third down conversions. The closest it came to scoring was on a 45-yard field goal that was blocked by Osayi Osunde in the second quarter.

Villanova place-kicker Joe Marcoux connected on field goals from 37 and 27 yards out, giving the Wildcats a 6-0 lead entering the half. The strong running of tailback Matt Dicken (35 carries, 172 yards) helped set up the field goals.

UMass took the lead on a long drive in the third quarter, converting twice on fourth downs – with the second conversion resulting in a 13-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Ian Jorgensen. The Minutemen first gambled on fourth down (4th and 1) on their own 32-yard line, gaining four yards on a screen pass to Moore. The touchdown came on a fourth-and-four at the 13-yard line.

The Wildcats took the lead again six minutes into the fourth quarter, when Whitney hit tight end Matthew Sherry for an 18-yard score. The two hooked up again for the two-point conversion, giving Villanova the 14-7 lead. Coen’s touchdown to Sanford with 2:09 remaining set the game up for overtime.

Game Notes

The Wildcats were without starting quarterback Antwon Young, who injured his left knee last weekend … Whitney made his first-career start in the losing effort … Villanova completed one pass (4 yards) in the first half