Three in a row

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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PJ Stanley/Collegian

Matt Lawrence is a big fan of Liam Coen.

And after Lawrence rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns to lead Massachusetts to a 27-7 victory over New Hampshire, the senior tailback became a fan favorite himself on Saturday at McGuirk Stadium.

“My man Liam,” Lawrence said after the game with a laugh, referring to a key drive in the third quarter, in which Coen handed him the ball 10 times for 80 yards and a touchdown. “My line was going to work; they did what they do best. It was a lot of fun.”

It was the third straight win for No. 8 UMass (8-2, 6-1 Colonial Athletic Association) over rival UNH in two seasons, with this senior day victory clinching the CAA North Division title for the Minutemen. With the defeat, the No. 20 Wildcats (6-4, 3-4 CAA) were eliminated from playoff contention.

“It was a great, great win, especially when you go through a deflating experience like last week,” UMass coach Don Brown said, referencing his team’s upset loss in overtime to Rhode Island on Nov. 3.

The UMass defense was relentless, sacking UNH quarterback – and 2006 Walter Payton Award winner – Ricky Santos eight times and intercepting him twice to limit the Wildcats to just seven points.

“We have one game left in our college careers,” Santos said, clearly frustrated. “That’s it for us and our senior class. We have a bad taste in our mouth right now.”

Offensively, Coen was solid (21-of-28 for 191 yards and a touchdown), but the offensive line and Lawrence did the bulk of the damage. Coen wasn’t sacked and was rarely pressured, while Lawrence was strong all afternoon. He was never better than on that 11-play drive in which he toted the ball 10 times, ultimately leading to a 5-yard touchdown and a 17-7 lead.

“We came out in the third quarter, against the wind, and just had a sensational drive,” Brown said. “It was the way we like to do it around here, and that’s to be able to pound the ball.”

Lawrence’s first touchdown run came with 25 seconds left in the first quarter, on the first play after an interception by safety Michael Meggett. The 9-yard run gave UMass a 10-0 lead and came just minutes after place-kicker Chris Koepplin connected on a 51-yard field goal, tying for the second longest in school history.

UNH had success moving the ball in the second quarter, cutting the lead to 10-7 on a 13-play, 71-yard drive that resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run by Chad Kackert. The drive appeared to end on fourth-and-2 at the UMass 14, when Santos was stuffed at the line. Much of the 14,190 fans on hand began to roar but were quickly silenced as Santos kept his feet moving and pushed the pile enough for the first down.

The Wildcats had another long drive (11 plays, 67 yards) at the end of the quarter, but place-kicker Tom Manning missed a 37-yard field goal attempt to tie the game as time expired in the first half.

UMass opened the third quarter, continuously handing the ball off to Lawrence, resulting in the 17-7 lead. Coen threw just once on the drive, an 8-yard pass to tight end Ian Jorgensen. But it was a historic completion for Coen, giving him enough yards to eclipse Todd Bankhead’s school record of 7,018 career passing yards. Coen, a redshirt junior, finished the game with 7,133 yards in his career.

“I usually don’t really care about those kinds of things, but it was a little bit more special with the win today,” Coen said. “It’s really special to do something like that with the group of guys that we have and on a day like today.”

While Coen and Lawrence led the way on offense, just about everyone made big plays on defense. Both safeties – Jeromy Miles and Meggett – had interceptions, with Miles’ coming in the end zone on the game’s opening drive. UMass recorded 13 tackles for loss, and eight different players contributed in sacking Santos, even though the conference leader in sacks, David Burris, wasn’t one of them. Michael Hanson had two.

The UMass defense also contained Santos on the ground, gaining just 28 yards on his 10 rushing attempts. With the eight sacks, the senior quarterback officially ran the ball 18 times for negative 25 yards. He was 27-of-40 passing, with 221 yards and the two interceptions. Kackert had just nine carries for 30 yards, and the team finished with 44 net yards rushing. UMass had 204.

“Michael Hanson told me he wanted to send the seniors out with a bang, and everybody came together today,” linebacker Charles Walker said. “We gave [Santos] a host of looks, a potpourri of blitzes today and just came from every angle.”

The Minutemen increased the lead to 24-7 on their next drive after Lawrence’s second touchdown, this time on a 21-yard pass from Coen to Michael Omar. Koepplin added his second field goal in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring at 27-7.

The Wildcats had two opportunities in the first quarter to take the lead, but failed to convert both times. The first was the interception by Miles in the end zone on the opening series of the game. The second came when UNH’s Justin Wright blocked a Brett Arnold punt, giving the Wildcats possession on the UMass 14-yard line. A 7-yard loss on a reverse and a 9-yard loss on a sack prompted UNH coach Sean McDonnell to punt the ball, rather than try for a 46-yard field goal against the wind.

Game notes

Lawrence was awarded the 22nd annual Bill Knight Trophy after the game, which is given to the game’s most valuable player