Minutemen, seniors, say goodbye to the CAA

By Steve Levine

Maria Uminski/Collegian
Maria Uminski/Collegian

Although Saturday afternoon was supposed to belong to the Massachusetts football team, it was James Madison’s Dae’Quan Scott that stole the day.

Scott, a sophomore running back, rushed for two touchdowns and a career-high 251 yards as he was undoubtedly the biggest difference-maker in the Bulldogs’ 34-17 win over the Minutemen during UMass’ Senior Day and final Football Championship Subdivision game.

The running back’s career day not only earned him Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Week honors, but it also propelled his team into the CAA playoffs.

“[Scott] was just finding holes and breaking tackles,” said senior linebacker Tyler Holmes. “I think we had one of our worst tackling games tonight and it definitely hurt us.”

UMass’ poor tackling was evident not only against Scott, but also against backup running back Jordan Anderson and mobile quarterback Justin Thorpe, who attempted just seven passes. The trio combined for a 378 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.

“We knew they were going to run the ball and run it effectively,” said UMass coach Kevin Morris. “[Scott] had a 76-yard run which certainly was a big hit and they were getting good chunks… they had some good runs with the running backs and they made some people miss on tackles, but it was those third-down runs by Thorpe which I thought were really critical.”

Seniors leave mark

Perhaps UMass’ proudest moment came with seven minutes remaining in the game when Kellen Pagel used his senior weapons to march 60 yards to the Bulldogs’ 6-yard line.

Pagel integrated senior receiver Tom Gilson, senior tailback Jonathan Hernandez and senior tight end Emil Igwenagu heavily in the final drive that ended with an incomplete pass to Igwenagu as the Minutemen attempted a fourth down touchdown.

Igwenagu, who has been a prominent player since his redshirt sophomore season in 2009, finished his final season with 38 receptions for 375 yards and three touchdowns.

“I’ve been here for a long time,” said Igwenagu, who was elected as co-captain prior the season along with Holmes. “This is my fifth season here after I redshirted so obviously it’s going to be emotional. There’s obviously a strong bond with the environment, the coaches and the players.”

Holmes, who has been a staple on defense since 2009 and was an All-American last year, shares a similar sentiment with Igwenagu.

“It’ll definitely be a place I’ll miss,” said Holmes, who has received countless awards throughout his collegiate career. “It’s been a very emotional week I think for me as well as all the other seniors… [We had] to cherish this day and live in the moment.”

The offense will lose three main cogs in Hernandez and senior receivers Julian Talley and Jesse Julmiste.

Hernandez started all 11 games at running back, amassing over 1,000 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. It will be particularly hard for UMass to see him leave as the offense has flowed through him for the past two seasons.

“[Hernandez] had a great season,” Morris said. “He was really banged up the last four weeks of the year and his numbers were down a bit because of that but he’s such a warrior he just kept going back in and back in.

“… These guys all fought through injuries and that’s the kind of group they were with John and Emil and Tyler and the rest of the senior class,” added Morris. “They didn’t want to take a step back, they just kept pushing forward, hurt or not.”

Talley and Julmiste combined for 1,281 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. Julmiste also returned two kicks for touchdowns in his breakout season.

Farewell to CAA, FCS

Following the loss to the Bulldogs, Morris was quick to acknowledge the competitiveness that the CAA had to offer for five years.

“The CAA is the best conference in the country at the FCS level,” said Morris. “The MAC will be a very competitive conference as well but the caliber of the competition week in and week out in the CAA will get anyone ready for any level.”

While the UMass football program says its goodbyes to the CAA, it is ready to take on the challenge of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) and the Football Bowl Subdivision.

In order to be successful at football’s highest level, Morris believes that the administration will have to give the program plenty of financial support.

“[UMass has] to bring in the money and the support that all division 1 programs have,” said Morris. “… It’s going to be financially based and if they do all the right things financially then UMass will have a great chance to be successful.”

Steve Levine can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Levine.