Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass football closes book on 2015 season with win over Buffalo

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts football team’s struggles to close out games in the second half has been well documented in a 2015 season filled with disappointment and frustration. With a five-point lead and possession in the hands of Buffalo with two minutes, 13 seconds remaining Friday night, the stage seemed set for another UMass letdown.

But this time, in the Minutemen’s season finale, there was no crushing late defeat.

Bulls quarterback Joe Licata’s third down pass with 1:43 left was deflected into the hands of Minutemen linebacker Da’Sean Downey for the game-clinching interception that gave UMass (3-9, 2-6 Mid-American Conference) its third win of the year and its second in three weeks.

“I just thought it was a really great win, the best one since I’ve been back as I told the kids,” coach Mark Whipple told reporters following Friday’s game. “Just the way they went about their business… They grew up a lot over the last couple of days and I’m just happy for the seniors to go out (with a win).

“I suppose any time they hear the word Buffalo, it’ll bring a smile to their face.”

Minutemen freshman running back Marquis Young led the Minutemen’s offense with a career-high 240 rushing yards on 35 carries for three touchdowns. All three of his touchdowns came in the first half to give UMass a 28-17 lead at the half.

“We think he’s grown up a lot,” Whipple said. “He’s shown he can carry the ball more than just 15 times.”

Young helped jumpstart the Minutemen in their best start to a game all season, scoring two touchdowns in the opening six minutes to give UMass a 14-0 lead at the 9:15 mark in the first quarter.

On his second touchdown, Young took a handoff to the left side, shook off a defender and outran everyone for a 47-yard score.

Young became the first Minutemen running back to record 200 or more rushing yards in a game since Tony Nelson did so against Hofstra with 204 yards. Young reached the mark Friday behind a makeshift offensive line that was without Tyrell Smith and Elijah Wilkinson, along with tight end Shaquille Harris, due to a violation of the University’s student-athlete conduct policy.

UMass also lost starting offensive lineman Fabian Hoeller in the first half due to injury, which forced redshirt freshman Anthony DiNicola into the rotation.

“I don’t even know how they did it,” Whipple said about the offensive line’s performance. “Guys fought hard.”

Young was only held to 25 yards in the second half as both teams struggled to move the ball. Buffalo outscored the Minutemen 9-3 over the final two quarters after a fairly high-scoring first half of play.

Following a third quarter field goal and a five-yard rushing touchdown by Bulls running back Jordan Johnson only 26 seconds into the final quarter, Buffalo shrunk UMass’ lead to two points at 28-26.

No team would score over the next 12 minutes before Minutemen placekicker Logan Laurent tallied on another three points on a 37-yard field goal after a 12-play , 48-yard drive was stalled at the 20-yard line.

The Bulls then took over with one last shot at completing their comeback before Licata’s pass attempt to tight end Mason Schreck was deflected off UMass linebacker Joe Colton right to Downey for the interception.

Colton, who was one of 20 seniors playing in their last game for the Minutemen Friday, finished with seven tackles and two pass breakups while Downey had nine tackles.

“That’s what we’ve been trying to do since we got here, win by defense,” Colton said. “A lot of times it didn’t bounce our way but it just makes it taste better going out this way.”

Colton said the fact that Friday was his last game sunk in during the first half against Buffalo.

“I was bawling on the field the whole time until around the first quarter. I was crying the whole time out there, I couldn’t believe it,” he added. “I thought it wouldn’t hit until winter workouts but I was just so emotional.

The Minutemen’s 3-9 mark matches their record from a season ago. UMass now enters conference independency in 2016.

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.

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