2nd Annual Colonial Clash set for Saturday

By Michael Wood

The Massachusetts football team will take the field on Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. for the second annual Colonial Clash against New Hampshire as the first tangible preview of the site it will play all its home games for at least the next two seasons.

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

When the Minutemen move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision next season, the team will play all its home games at Gillette rather than McGuirk Stadium, which has been its home since 1965.

The Wildcats defeated UMass, 39-13, a season ago in the first Colonial Clash, and that’s something that the Minutemen are trying to avoid this year.

UMass head coach Kevin Morris said that he’s trying not to look at the game as a preview for the near future, but also said he knows that it’s almost impossible for others ignore completely.

“I guess you could [think of it like that], but that’s not how we’re looking at this game at all,” said Morris. “This is UMass-UNH. It’s the traditional rivalry for UMass and we’re just excited about that.”

While Morris is trying to keep his team within itself heading to Foxboro, he acknowledges that the venue of the game is one of the best his team will ever see, and he is excited to get the opportunity to play there again.

“The Gillette factor certainly plays into it,” added Morris. “It’s an unbelievable venue to play in and it’s one of the best professional venues in the country. For FCS football or even FBS football, it’s an incredible experience. Certainly for some of our younger guys, they’ll be looking at it as their future home.”

New Hampshire enters the game with a 4-2 record (2-1 CAA) and a tough loss to William & Mary last week, which snapped its four-game win streak. Leading the offense in that game was quarterback Kevin Decker, who set career highs in passes, attempts and yards, finishing the game 34-of-50 for 422 yards and a touchdown. He was also sacked six times in the loss.

Besting the Blue Hens

Last week, the Minutemen (4-2, 2-1 CAA) used a 21-point first quarter to get ahead of the No. 6 Delaware (4-3, 2-2 CAA), then the squad let its defense take over for the remainder of the game. Delaware didn’t have an answer, and fell to 2-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association this season.

“We got out of the gate very well,” said Morris. “We were able to get the wind in our favor and take advantage of it in the first quarter. It was really a battle from that point. We let up 10 points in the second quarter and the second half was scoreless.”

Quarterback Kellen Pagel started a week after missing a game due to a concussion, and tossed 20 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown. He also didn’t turn the ball over at all, and that’s something Morris has tried to promote throughout the season.

“The big thing we’ve been talking about over the weeks is the turnovers,” said Morris. “That’s a huge factor for us and how we play the game.”

Defense wins games

As the offensive attack has heated up lately, so has the defensive unit.

Led by veteran standouts like linebacker Tyler Holmes and Darren Thellen as well as underclassmen like Ed Saint-Vil and Kirk Nelms, the Minutemen have seen contributions from every position in their defense this season.

Following last weekend’s victory at Delaware, Thellen was named Co-UMass Athlete of the Week. He grabbed two interceptions in the game and helped stymie a Blue Hen offense that has given UMass trouble in the past. It was also the second consecutive game that Thellen has recorded two interceptions. He now leads the Minutemen in that category, with four on the year including one that he returned for a touchdown.

Michael Wood can be reached at [email protected]