Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass football team makes things interesting, but falls in Starkville

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(Collegian file photo)

To start the fourth quarter, No. 21 Mississippi State had been leading the Massachusetts football team 27-20. The Bulldogs would eventually win 34-23, but it wasn’t as easy as it maybe should have been.

A 20-13 UMass halftime lead had been erased by 14 unanswered points by MSU in the third quarter, and the Bulldogs were searching for more to start the fourth.

They turned to their run game. MSU (7-2) had already rushed for 116 yards in the third quarter alone and kept to that strategy to start the final quarter. With a 2nd-and-one on its own 44-yard-line, MSU ditched the run and elected for a trick play instead.

Wide receiver Reggie Todd got the ball, cocked his arm back and released a lofty pass deep down the right side of the field—but the trick play didn’t fool cornerback Isaiah Rodgers.

Keeping pace with his man, Rodgers kept his eye on the ball and looked it over his shoulders and into his hands for his second pick of the game. Able to stay on his feet, Rodgers returned the ball to near where the ill-fated play began, the MSU 45-yard-line.

A field goal would later follow and UMass would cut the Bulldog lead to 27-23.

An 83-yard punt return touchdown from MSU’s Deddrick Thomas with five minutes remaining in the game would put the Minutemen behind enough to essentially kill any realistic chance at a comeback.

The Minutemen, now 2-7, began by stunning Mississippi State early when Rodgers intercepted Nick Fitzgerald and took the ball 29 yards to the MSU end zone, giving the Minutemen a 13-10 lead at the beginning of the second quarter.

That was the first of two interceptions Fitzgerald would throw Saturday. The second was also in the second quarter when Tyler Hayes ripped the ball from the hands of the receiver as the catch was being attempted.

Fitzgerald threw for only 139 yards and didn’t throw a single touchdown pass. However, his legs continued to be a force as he rushed for 135 yards while scoring two touchdowns on the ground.

“Key on Fitz and [our] defensive staff,” linebacker Jarell Addo said to reporters after the game. “They really know how to game plan against offenses, so we were locked in after [the] Appalachian State game was over and already over to [Mississippi] State the next day ready to go, so we had a great week of practice and unfortunately the game ended how it went but the defense was in the right spot.”

The quarterback’s rushing touchdowns and two Jace Christmann field goals were the only scores that MSU was able to put together on the offensive side of the ball. A J.T. Gray 58-yard pick six to start the game and Thomas’ punt return rounded out the Bulldogs’ scoring.

“I feel like the defense stepped up and made great plays,” Addo said. “Isaiah Rodgers came up early with the pick six in the first half and other interception he had. We had a few key three and out stops. It was a good first half to have complementary football and get the offense going.”

This is the second SEC team that the Minutemen almost upset this season, but according to running back Marquis Young, almost winning isn’t enough.

“We don’t want moral victories,” Young said to reporters after the game. “We don’t want ‘we almost had them,’ we want the win. We come out here and work hard every week at practice and we respect our opponent, we respect who we’re playing. We respect the SEC.”

 

Philip Sanzo can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Philip_Sanzo.

About the Writer
Philip Sanzo, Sports Editor
Following their toughest loss of the season so far, the Minutemen took out their frustrations on Hartford Tuesday.
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