FOXBOROUGH – The Massachusetts football team lost all hopes of a possible upset in the third quarter Saturday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
Leading 14-13 to start the second half, UMass (1-3) faltered as Mississippi State scored four third period touchdowns to all but dash any notion that the Minutemen could best the Bulldogs 2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference), leaving Foxboro 47-35 victors.
UMass and MSU exchanged scores to start the half before the Bulldogs scored three consecutive touchdowns to close out the quarter with a 20-point lead.
Fred Ross (46-yard reception), Aeris Williams (16-yard run) and Ferrod Green (13-yard reception) provided the offensive scores in the third for MSU.
Leading 27-21 following Williams’ score, Jamoral Graham intercepted UMass quarterback Andrew Ford and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown.
Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (299 yards, three touchdown passes) found Green in the end zone with seven seconds remaining in the third to pull ahead 41-21 with 15 minutes to play.
Ford fired two 19-yard touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to Bernard Davis and Sadiq Palmer to cut the MSU lead to 41-35 with 4:59 to play before Ashton Shumpert sealed the deal on the following drive with a 12-yard touchdown run.
“We got it within six which was great character by our guys,” Minutemen coach Mark Whipple said. “The third quarter kind of killed us – it was the freshmen miscues. Those guys all bounced back. Sadiq (Palmer) dropped a first down. (Fred) Ross is a really good player – their receiver – beat Isaiah (Rodgers) on a double move. Then Raquan (Thomas) gets a hold (penalty). Those are our best guys, so I’m proud of the way they came back.
“We’re young in those places. Credit (Mississippi State). That’s why they’re in the SEC. They’re just bigger and faster. Our guys competed right with them, just made too many mistakes on both sides of the ball. I thought when (MSU) ran 50 plays (in the first half), that was really tough on our defense. We just needed to make one stop or one turnover to really get the momentum our way and credit them. We just couldn’t get it.”
The Minutemen took a 7-3 lead in the first quarter after running back Marquis Young beat the defensive line to the edge for what felt like the first time all season – blowing by defenders for an 83-yard touchdown.
Young finished his day with 125 yards on 18 carries to complement his score.
“It let us know that we could play with (MSU),” Young said of his early touchdown. “It definitely felt good getting into the end zone today and giving my team a little motivation to play. I just kept telling myself that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. I kept telling our offense and defense the same thing.”
Wide receiver Jalen Williams provided the Minutemen and Ford with two big-time sparks.
Williams was the recipient of a 4th-and-7, 31-yard touchdown pass from Ford to give UMass a 14-6 lead with just under two minutes to play in the first half. It was Williams’ second consecutive game with a touchdown reception.
The redshirt senior followed it up with a highlight reel 19-yard touchdown in the third quarter to put the Minutemen back on top after the Bulldogs opened the quarter with a score. Williams (three receptions, 64 yards) was double covered and made a one-handed juggling catch to haul in his second touchdown of the game.
“He’s been telling me all year to just give him a chance and that’s what I did today,” Ford said. “He’s a great football player and he made a couple great plays today.”
Ford finished with 273 yards and tossed four touchdown passes on the afternoon, but misfired three times resulting in interceptions.
Regardless, Whipple liked what he saw from his starter for the second consecutive game starting in place of injured signal caller Ross Comis.
“He did a lot of good things,” Whipple said. “Some really good things, especially after the pick six. He didn’t drop his head and just led the team. There wasn’t any panic on the sideline. Our guys believe in both of our quarterbacks. He took a step forward.
“He just needs a little more experience. I thought he battled. He played hard, all our guys did. I’m proud of them. I had a good time coaching the game. We just have to play better. We have to get back to work tomorrow afternoon.”
Kyle DaLuz can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Kyle_DaLuz.