Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass football tries for third win in last four games against Maine at Fenway Park

(Caroline O’Connor/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts football team played in one of the most hostile environments in all of college football last week at Davis Wade Stadium against Mississippi State. However, on Saturday, UMass will have the opportunity to play in one of the most beloved environments in all of professional sports.

At 4 p.m. the Minutemen are set to face off against Maine at Fenway Park as part of the Fenway Gridiron Series.

Also falling on Veteran’s Day, UMass (2-7) is set for battle with the Black Bears—a Football Championship Subdivision team—in arguably the Minutemen’s most notable venue of the 2017 campaign.

“They’re tough, they play hard,” coach Mark Whipple said of Maine (4-4, 3-4 Colonial Athletic Association). “They’ve got some skill guys. They got quarterbacks that are getting better and better, so it’s a lot like our guys.”

Quarterback Chris Ferguson has gotten most of the reps under center for the Black Bears, throwing for 1,576 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions, good for a 122.05 quarterback rating through eight games.

Maine’s calling card, however, is its rushing attack with star running back and FCS leader Josh Mack leading the charge. Averaging 146.7 yards per game, Mack has put together an incredible season, rushing for 1,152 yards on 191 attempts with six touchdowns to his credit as well.

Being an FCS team, the Black Bears are technically the weakest team the Minutemen will play this year, yet they aren’t looking too far into that narrative.

“We’re not really looking at the records, [or] looking at the FBS, FCS [difference],” sophomore cornerback Isaiah Rodgers said. “We’re just playing every game the same.”

Rodgers had quite the game Nov. 4, intercepting two passes from Mississippi State’s quarterback Nick Fitzgerald while returning one for a touchdown, in UMass’ 34-23 loss.

Junior wide receiver Andy Isabella also stepped up for the Minutemen in the defeat, registering 158 receiving yards—a career-best—including a 69-yard catch-and-run score in the second quarter.

“Every game I think is just a game,” Isabella said about adjusting to playing at Fenway. “We just go out there and play. At first once you soak it all in, sometimes you get ready for the game. It’s really just another game.”

“[Isabella’s] done it in a lot of places and I think Isaiah was really kind of the breakout game,” Whipple said. “He’s very talented. I think he probably got some heckling from the DB’s that Lee Moses had more interceptions than he did. So, there’s a little bit of a competitive spirit I think certainly in that room. He’s practiced well, played well, and he’s talented. It’s things that we’ve seen him do, and he took his team to a pretty big environment.”

Overall, Maine averages 24.50 points per game while totaling 3,118 all-purpose yards on offense, and surrendered 21 touchdowns in its eight games to date.

Should UMass beat the Black Bears, it’ll mark Whipple’s 60th win at the helm of the Minutemen dating back to his first stint in the early 2000s, which will push him into first-place all-time among wins with the program.

It’s unlikely UMass will qualify for football beyond the regular season, so the spectacle of playing in the MLB’s oldest ballpark makes this a matchup that means so much more for the Minutemen.

“Playing at Fenway, I’m treating this like a Bowl game,” Rodgers said.

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.

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