Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass limits turnovers, players have career-days in win

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian
Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

For the past two weeks, the Massachusetts football team was highly criticized for its propensity to turn the ball over.

The turnover talk started following the Minutemen’s loss against Boston College two weeks ago when they had four turnovers in a 45-17 rout. It was more of the same last week against Old Dominion when UMass again committed four turnovers on its way to a 48-33 defeat.

But another week of preaching and practicing the importance of ball security seemed to have finally clicked. In their game against Central Connecticut State on Saturday, the Minutemen didn’t commit a single turnover en route to 42-26 win, UMass’ highest scoring output of the season.

“Any game that we hold on to the ball is going to be in our favor,” said senior tight end Emil Igwenagu, who had a game-high four receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown. “I think we’re a good team offensively and just holding on to the ball gives us opportunities to make plays and execute.”

Under center for the Minutemen was freshman Brandon Hill, who shined in his second career start at quarterback.

Hill, who had been giving way to redshirt sophomore Kellen Pagel the past three games, finished 10-of-18 passing for 169 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.

“We didn’t turn the ball over tonight,” said UMass coach Kevin Morris. “When we don’t turn the ball over against our schedule, [we have] a shot to win. We took that shot away from ourselves the past two weeks. Brandon at the helm made sure our guys were getting the ball in the right spots. I’m very happy with Brandon’s play and running the offense.”

In three games (two starts), Hill has two touchdowns and no interceptions. Pagel, who has played in four games (three starts), has six touchdowns and six interceptions.

Julmiste earns special teams honors

Senior wide receiver Jesse Julmiste earned Colonial Athletic Association Football Special Teams Player of the Week honors after amassing 148 yards on four kickoff returns, one of which was a 90-yard return for a touchdown to put UMass up, 35-26.

Julmiste’s other highlight return came two weeks ago against Boston College, when he returned a 100-yard kick for a touchdown. Julmiste made history that game, setting a school record with 252 return yards.

Julmiste has 16 kick returns for 526 yards (32.9 average return). The 32.9-yard average return ranks him third nationally in that category. Also, his 526 yards is a career-best and it ranks as the fourth-best single-season performance in school history. The all-time record of 805 was set by Tim Berra in 1973.

Julmiste’s two kick return touchdowns are tied for the most in program history along with Phil DeRose (1964) and Dennis Dent (1978).

With six games left, Julmiste, who also has 12 receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns as a receiver, has a chance to become UMass’ best single-season return man in history.

Thellen, Igwenagu have career games

While Hill made a statement at quarterback and Julmiste continued his dominant return game, junior safety Darren Thellen and senior tight end Emil Igwenagu had career-games.

Thellen made a giant impact in Saturday’s game with two key interceptions. The first came in the second quarter and UMass up 19-7 when Thellen picked off CCSU quarterback Gunnar Jespersen at the UMass 36-yard line. Thellen ran 43 yards after the catch to CCSU’s 21-yard line, setting up a field goal which put the Minutemen up, 22-7.

Thellen’s second interception was arguably the play of the game. It came with UMass up 35-26 in the fourth quarter and CCSU threatening to score. After gaining a first down and CCSU set up on UMass’ 31-yard line, Thellen picked off Jespersen’s pass at the 15-yard line and returned it 85 yards for the score, effectively winning the game.

Igwenagu also showed why he’s one of UMass’ impact players, registering a game-high four receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown came on a career-high 58-yard reception, about 53 of which came after the catch.

“Every time I get the ball in my hands I’m just trying to get as many yards as I can and score a touchdown,” said Igwenagu. “I broke a tackle or two and got in the endzone.”

Steve Levine can be reached at [email protected].


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