UMass loses to FCS Maine, remains winless at Gillette Stadium

By Cameron McDonough

FOXBORO – The Massachusetts football team entered its home opener on Saturday with an overall record of 0-7 at Gillette Stadium. However, Saturday looked like a golden opportunity for UMass to get that elusive first win at its home away from Amherst against Football Championship Subdivision member Maine.

But now the Minutemen’s record at Gillette remains after a debilitating, 24-14, loss to the Black Bears in front of a listed attendance of 15,624 fans on Saturday.

Even though Maine (2-0) is an FCS team, UMass (0-2) coach Charley Molnar was expecting a tight game.

“I know on paper a lot of people thought that Maine was the favorite by (3.5) points,” he said. “Some people thought we should be the favorite because we’re FBS and they’re an FCS team. But I think I knew way too much. I knew from looking at their film, looking at their roster, looking at their size, it was a pretty even matchup.”

Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

Maine took the lead for good with 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter after Minuteman punter Colter Johnson shanked a 20-yard punt, giving Maine the ball on the UMass 25-yard line. Rickey Stevens then ran right past the Minutemen defense and scored on the very next play to put Maine up 10-7 at the half.

The Black Bears padded onto that lead with a dominating third quarter, including a 1-yard touchdown by Zedric Joseph and a 39-yard quarterback draw for a touchdown by Marcus Wasilewski.

Things did start off well for UMass on Saturday. Trey Dudley-Giles returned the opening kickoff 41 yards, which set the Minutemen up on their own 46-yard line. UMass followed with a quick 54-yard touchdown drive on four plays, capped off by a seven-yard grab by Bernard Davis in the end zone from Mike Wegzyn just 1:23 into the game.

Despite starting strong, Wegzyn (13-25 passing for 139 yards, an interception and a touchdown) would only last the first half and was replaced by backup A.J. Doyle (7-17 passing for 62 yards and a touchdown) at the start of the third quarter.

“When we got to halftime, I could see that there was just that, we needed some help, we needed to do something different to get the offense going,” Molnar said. “And I decided to make the change and put A.J. Doyle in at quarterback. Can’t tell you that that’s a permanent move. I can just tell you that it was a move that I made at the half and it was the right move to make.”

Doyle’s touchdown throw was an 8-yard pass to Tajae Sharpe for his first-career receiving touchdown. The score was too little too late for the Minutemen offense.

UMass’ early scoring drive didn’t faze Maine, as it responded with a promising series, which included a 48-yard pass from Wasilewski to a wide-open Perillo down the right sideline to the UMass five-yard line. The drive ended on the next play, though, when Jovan Santos-Knox picked off Wasilewski in the end zone.

Maine got another chance to put its first points on the board after Dudley-Giles muffed a punt, giving the Black Bears the ball at the Minuteman 20-yard line. Maine settled for a Sean Decloux 26-yard field goal, cutting the UMass lead to 7-3.

“As far as special teams,” Molnar said, “obviously the fumble early in the game giving them the short field, we’re just not good enough of a football team to overcome that.”

Both teams were susceptible to mistakes. Wegzyn appeared to have thrown a costly interception, but he got lucky momentarily when Khari Al-Mateen coughed the ball up after the pick right back to UMass.

A scary moment happened with 1:29 remaining when Cabrinni Goncalves rocked Stacey Bedell on a screen pass attempt. Bedell (58 yards) stayed on the ground for a while before he was able to get up and walk off the field with some assistance from the trainers. He would return after halftime.

A loss like this against an FCS team can have a negative reaction from fans, but Molnar believes that this team is truly improving.

“Well the bandwagon has been fairly light anyways, so if a couple more jump off that’s their call,” he said. “All I know is this, we are a better football team. Again I don’t care who we were playing, we’re a better football team than we’ve been. We’re playing hard, don’t always play smart, but we play hard. And I really believe the fruits of our labors are gonna show.”

The Minutemen will get a chance to show if they are improving next Saturday when they travel to Kansas State for a 7 p.m. game.

Cameron McDonough can be reached at [email protected] and followed on twitter @Cam_McDonough.