UMass seniors hope to bring back fond memories when they take on Akron this Saturday

By Andrew Cyr

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

Outside linebacker/safety Joe Colton remembers vividly the emotions he felt three years ago after the Massachusetts football team played Akron. UMass (1-7, 0-4 Mid-American Conference) earned its first victory in the Football Bowl Subdivision against the Zips (3-5, 1-3 MAC) on Nov. 10, 2012 in a 22-14 on the road.

Colton, a freshman walk-on at the time, made his first career interception late in the fourth quarter bringing it back to the Akron one-yard line.

“I didn’t have long enough arms to reach it across,” Colton joked Wednesday after practice. “I remember that day feeling included for once. I felt important and all the guys took notice of me.”

Colton was one of many freshmen that played against the Zips in 2012 as Michael Boland and Tajae Sharpe started on offense while Jovan Santos-Knox, Trey Dudley-Giles, Randall Jette and Khary Bailey-Smith all had starts on defense. Kicker Blake Lucas was 3-of-3 on field goal attempts from 23 yards, 26 and 35.

Now in the seniors’ final game at Gillette Stadium Saturday, the Minutemen are looking to complete the full circle and earn its second win of the season against Akron.

Jette, who hails from Martha’s Vineyard, grew up a New England Patriots fan and said that playing at Gillette has been something he’ll never forget.

“To me, (Gillette Stadium) is a monument. It’s a big part of my life, I’ve always been a Patriots fan,” Jette said. “Hopefully it ends how I want it to end. That’s the goal, and it all starts with handling Akron.”

“This is a big game. It’s the seniors’ last game at Foxborough,” coach Mark Whipple added. “We’ve been close there this year, but we just have to find a way to get it done.”

The Zips enter this weekend’s matchup coming off a 14-6 loss to Central Michigan last Saturday with their only touchdown coming on a 57-yard touchdown pass from Thomas Woodson to Jerome Lane.

In addition to stopping Woodson and the rest of the Akron spread offense, running back Connor Hundley is a power-back that loves to run inside the tackles and behind pulling guards. Hundley has 113 carries for 577 rushing yards and six touchdowns this season.

The Zips offense, however, operates primarily using quick passes, allowing Woodson to find receivers underneath for short gains. While Lane leads them in receiving yards (456) and touchdowns (five), Woodson’s main target is Imani Davis, whose 30 receptions is the most for Akron.

Lane started his career for the Zips as a defensive end and has since converted to wide receiver. Both Whipple and Jette praised his athleticism, saying that he was a big focus for the Minutemen this weekend.

UMass has struggled producing on offense as of late, scoring just 17 points in its last six quarters of play, dating back to its 51-35 loss to then-No. 19 Toledo on Oct. 24.

Akron’s pass rush will give quarterback Blake Frohnapfel and the Minutemen offensive line fits, as it ranks second in the MAC in sacks with linebacker Jatavis Brown second in the conference with eight.

Finishing the job

After practice Tuesday, senior fullback/tight end Rodney Mills said that with the Minutemen mathematically out of contention for a bowl bid, they have focused on finishing strong over their final four games in hopes of improving upon last year’s 3-9 record.

“That would be closure for me as a UMass football player,” Jette said about finishing the season winning the final four games.

He added: “We’ve been through a lot. No one outside the locker room knows how tough it’s been. There’s no excuses, but (winning out) would be a good closure for me.”

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