Wild third quarter

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

CHESTNUT HILL – The first 30 minutes of football between Massachusetts and Boston College went as many expected it would on Saturday at Alumni Stadium.

But after the teams exited their locker rooms following halftime with the Eagles leading 17-0, the next 15 minutes or so surprised and confused many in attendance – including the officiating crew.

Struggling in the field-position-game in the first half, the Minutemen quickly turned the tables on the Eagles and used it to their advantage. After UMass punter Brett Arnold booted a 53-yard punt that was downed at the BC 3-yard line, the Minuteman defense forced a three-and-out. BC’s punt by Johnny Ayers went for a net 37 yards, giving UMass the ball in Eagles territory.

It didn’t take long for UMass quarterback Liam Coen to capitalize on the short field. Just eight seconds and 41 yards later, the Minutemen had their first score of the game on a touchdown strike to Rasheed Rancher, cutting the deficit to 17-7.

“We had the good field position so we took that shot up-top,” Coen said of his touchdown pass to Rancher. “Rasheed beat the corner, just flat beat him. That was something that we did plan on doing.”

On the ensuing Eagles drive, the Minutemen appeared to receive even better field position when BC tight end Ryan Purvis fumbled the ball after being hit by Josh Jennings and Charles Walker. The ball ended up in the arms of linebacker Jason Hatchell, as the UMass sideline erupted into a frenzy.

But the celebration turned out to be premature, as the officials reviewed the play and overturned the call on the field – ruling it an incomplete pass. It was the first and only time this season that UMass will play in a game that uses instant replay.

“The momentum on our sideline was pretty high,” Coen said of his team after the fumble. “When they had the challenge reversed, we [still] had all the confidence in the world that we were going to score. We really felt that that game was ours.”

After UMass cornerback Courtney Robinson made a nice play to deflect Matt Ryan’s third-down pass, the Minutemen got the ball back anyway – but at their own 23, and not at BC’s.

Coen was sacked and almost intercepted on the following drive, but the real action began on their fourth-and-11 play. Arnold punted on his own 22-yard line and a penalty was called during the play. The officials discussed the play for several minutes, talking the matter over with both head coaches. The end result was a defensive holding call, resulting in no play and a fourth-and-one for the Minutemen.

UMass coach Don Brown was very animated on the sidelines, presumably wondering if the holding penalty should have resulted in an automatic first down.

“I’m not going to sit here and debate on every penalty,” Brown said at the postgame press conference. “Whether it was right, wrong, indifferent, obviously there’s some there that I question.”

The Minutemen were forced to punt for a second time, but received the ball back after the Eagles went three-and-out. Coen struck quickly again, engineering a three-play, 62-yard drive which resulted in his second touchdown pass of the afternoon.

The recipient of the 35-yard score was wideout Jeremy Horne, who caught the screen pass a few yards from the line of scrimmage and scampered the rest of the way virtually untouched.

The score was now 17-14, and it was UMass that looked like the better team in the third quarter.

“We came out in the second half with renewed resolve, which I knew I’d get,” Brown said.

That resolve turned into a 15-yard penalty after the Minutemen got a little too exuberant following the touchdown. The penalty was assessed on the kickoff, forcing UMass to kick the ball off on its own 15.

“The one that angered me was the unsportsmanlike after the touchdown,” Brown said. “Now you’re putting yourself in a tougher situation on the ensuing kickoff.”

BC kick returner Brandon Robinson received the kick on his own 15, returning it to the 35. The Eagles slowly drove down the field, looking for the dagger.

UMass thought it thwarted the drive when BC transfer cornerback Reshaude Goodwin intercepted Ryan near the end zone. But the Minutemen were whistled for offsides on the play, one of 17 penalties called on UMass.

“It’s amazing that we had 17 penalties and actually had a chance late in the third quarter,” Brown said.

The offsides penalty loomed large as the Eagles pounded the ball into the end zone for a 24-14 lead on a 4-yard run by tailback Andre Callender. Ryan came up big on the drive, completing 5-of-7 passes for 38 yards passing and also rushing for 14 yards.

That touchdown essentially put away the game for the Eagles, but it was the 17 penalties, coupled with the bad breaks on the overturned fumble and punt fiasco that doomed the Minutemen in their comeback attempt.

If not for those circumstances, the final 15 minutes of football might have surprised the whole country.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]