Saturday afternoon will be a historic occasion for the Massachusetts football team and UMass’ athletic department no matter how one looks at it.
When the Minutemen take on James Madison this weekend, it will mark the final game UMass plays as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association and the Football Championship Subdivision.
The Minutemen will join the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Mid-American Conference next season. In doing so, a new era of Minutemen football will begin.
Saturday’s game will also be the last home game played on campus at McGuirk Alumni Stadium for the immediate future. Once the Minutemen move to the FBS, the team will relocate and play all its games in Foxboro at Gillette Stadium. The move will be the first time UMass plays its home games outside of McGuirk Stadium since it was constructed in 1965.
But before the move into the upper-tier of Division I football, the Minutemen have to face the Dukes.
“At this point it’s just another playoff game to us,” said UMass coach Kevin Morris. “It’s the last game for the seniors and we’re home and we’ll have a lot of hype going on.”
Following a tough late-game loss to Maine last weekend, UMass will be looking to regain some of its pride and get a win under its belt in the squad’s last game of the season.
Starting in his first collegiate game in place of an injured Kellen Pagel, emergency quarterback Raymond Pendagast completed 19-of-31 pass attempts for 237 yards and a touchdown while also tossing one interception. Tailback Jonathan Hernandez rushed 31 times for 91 yards and a touchdown while his backup, Alan Williams, took the ball nine times for 53 yards.
“[Pendagast] hadn’t taken one snap with the first team ever,” said Morris. “But he’s been a great kid for us and he’s a redshirt freshman. He’s been one of our punters and [if needed] an emergency quarterback. He went in and did an unbelievable job managing that ballgame and handled himself with veteran demeanor and did an excellent job.”
The No. 19 Dukes are coming off a 31-13 victory over Rhode Island last weekend in a game where quarterback Justin Thorpe only needed to complete six passes for 91 yards and a touchdown in order to get the victory. JMU’s run game took care of the rest.
Dae-Quann Scott ran 13 times for 127 yards and two touchdowns on the day while Thorpe also got in the action on the ground. He helped his own cause by tucking the ball down and running 19 times for 88 yards and an additional touchdown.
“They’ve been great running the football,” said Morris. “They’re averaging well over 200 yards-per game and they want to run the ball. The bottom line is they want to run it, and they do a great job with formations to keep you off-balance.”
UMass will celebrate Senior Day on Saturday, as 15 players on the team will be graduating from the program. Unfortunately for the Minutemen, those 15 players also represent most of the squad’s seasoned veterans and are starters on the depth chart. The loss of the senior class following this season will be difficult to replace going forward.
On offense, the Minutemen are losing running back Jonathan Hernandez, wide receivers Julian Talley, Dominique Price, Tom Gilson and Jesse Julmiste, tight end Emil Igwenagu, longsnapper Travis Tripucka, linemen Josh Samuda and Brian Ostaszewski and kicker Brandon Yelovich.
Talley and Julmiste have amassed most of the receiving yards for UMass this season while Jonathan Hernandez leads the team in every rushing category. Yelovich has handled kickoff duties all season long and Tripucka has consistently started as the team’s longsnapper.
Defensively, the Minutemen are also losing the core of their unit in linebacker Tyler Holmes. In his four seasons at UMass, Holmes has totaled eight sacks, over 10 interceptions and over 200 tackles and was named an All-American in 2010 along with a myriad of other awards.
Defensive backs Gary Correia and Shane Viveiros, lineman James Gilchrist and linebacker Courtney Jackson are also seniors.
For the 15 seniors on the squad, not only does it represent the end of their playing career at UMass, but they will be the final senior class to graduate from the University having played all four years of their careers on campus.
Michael Wood can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @MDC_Wood.