Second half meltdown derails UMass football in 51-35 loss to No. 19 Toledo

By Andrew Cyr

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

FOXBOROUGH – All it took was 13 minutes, four seconds for the Massachusetts football team to watch one of its most impressive bodies of work come crashing back down to reality.

After playing one of its best halves in its Football Bowl Subdivision era, amounting an 18-point lead heading into the locker room against a ranked opponent, UMass (1-6, 0-3 Mid-American Conference) allowed 38 consecutive second-half points and fell to No. 19 Toledo 51-35 Saturday at Gillette Stadium.

The Rockets (7-0, 4-0 MAC) scored on seven consecutive drives to start the second half, with the first five resulting in touchdowns and the final two coming from field goals. They outscored UMass 41-7 in the second half, outgaining the Minutemen in total yards 355-to-123.

“It was a battle of two halves and they won the second half,” UMass cornerback Randall Jette said.

The Minutemen were forced to punt on their first five drives of the second half and had two turnover on downs over the final half. Their only productive drive came on Tajae Sharpe’s second of as many touchdowns with 4:11 remaining to make it a two-possession game.

“We haven’t been very good in the second half, they’ve been really good in the third quarter,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said.

He added: “We just didn’t stop them and didn’t make any plays on offense. And the penalties were very discouraging in the second half. This is why they are ranked where they are and why they are 7-0. We still haven’t played a complete game.”

Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely (26-of-47, 355 passing yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions) quickly erased the 18-point deficit by throwing for touchdowns on three consecutive drives to start the second half. Cody Thompson, Alonzo Russell and Michael Roberts were on the receiving end of those scores.

The Rockets scored 38 unanswered points in the second half before Sharpe’s three-yard touchdown reception.

“Eventually, a good team, a top-20 team, is going to score. We missed a couple plays where we couldn’t turn the ball around and give it back to the offense,” Jette said.

After receiving the second half kickoff, the Minutemen had made it a manageable third and one from their own 44 before a holding penalty by Tyrell Smith and an unsportsmanlike penalty from Tyshon Henderson led to a UMass punt.

Whipple noted that those penalties were a big factor in the Minutemen’s loss. They finished with 15 penalties for a total of 134 yards lost.

After a 35-yard field goal from Jameson Vest gave Toledo an early 3-0 lead, UMass answered with touchdown passes on back-to-back drives to Rodney Mills (10 yards) and Shakur Nesmith (14).

Sharpe’s first touchdown capped off a six play, 76-yard drive with 11:10 remaining in the first half, while Marquis Young’s 50-yard touchdown run on the ensuing possession gave the Minutemen a 28-10 lead with 8:23 remaining in the second quarter.

UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel finished 27-of-49 for 240 passing yards with four touchdowns and an interception. Young led all rushers with 80 yards.

Three of the Minutemen’s four touchdowns in the first half came as a result of interceptions forced by its defense. Joe Colton, Jette and Trey Dudley-Giles were on the receiving ends of those interceptions.

Whipple said that the turnover battle was one of the biggest factors in the game.

“I think it was key, just look at the score,” Whipple said. “In the first half it was 3-to-1, in the second half it was 0-0.”

“That was definitely our best half of football,” Jette added about Saturday’s first half.

Saturday’s loss marked the third consecutive loss for UMass, with all three coming in conference play.

“I guess you could say we didn’t execute. We just have to stay together as a team, the leaders, we have to step up and get things moving,” Sharpe said. “We need to make plays when we need them, simple as that.”

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.