Much like it did against Duquesne to open the year, the Massachusetts football team got out to a roaring hot start, scoring touchdowns on its first four possessions to pave the way to a 49-31 victory over Charlotte.
Playing without its top two quarterbacks, Andrew Ford and Ross Comis, UMass (2-3) knew it would have to find offense in different ways. They found an answer on the first play of the game, when running back Marquis Young used his blistering speed to take the opening kickoff 93 yards to the house to give the Minutemen an early lead.
UMass would force the 49ers (2-2) to go three and out on their first possession and the snap of the ensuing punt would go low, forcing Charlotte punter Kyle Corbett to drop to a knee to corral it, ending the play and giving the Minutemen possession on the 49er 20-yard line.
It didn’t take long for UMass to capitalize on the mistake, as Michael Curtis, filling in for Ford and Comis, found Andy Isabella on a crossing route who took it into the end zone.
The scoring run wasn’t over yet for the Minutemen. On the following Charlotte possession, defensive end Jake Byczko came off the edge and strip sacked 49er quarterback Chris Reynolds, and UMass recovered. After a pass interference penalty that set the Minutemen up on the goal line, Young ran it in from two yards out to put the Minutemen up three scores.
“Defense was physical and fast,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said. “Our guys up front moved the line of scrimmage better than they had all year. There was improvement all the way around and a lot of comradery.”
The quick strike offense was evident on the Minutemen’s next possession with the ball. An Isabella punt return set them up at midfield, where Curtis would throw a long strike to Brennon Dingle, who rose above a pair of 49er defenders to make an acrobatic catch that set UMass up at the Charlotte three. Curtis would run it in himself on the next play.
With that, the Minutemen had a 28-point lead just six minutes into the game while possessing the ball for a mere 1:11.
UMass would score once more before the half, on a 29-yard pass from Curtis to Jessie Britt.
“They definitely showed a lot of the stuff that we thought they would show,” Curtis said. “They tried to switch it up throughout the game and gave us a little more man than we expected, we didn’t see that a lot on film. That’s what we want; we wanted those match-ups and that’s what we started going to. It was a fun day.”
It was an ideal first career start for Curtis, who finished the game 12-for19 passing with 189 yards and two passing touchdowns as well as a pair of rushing touchdowns.
After three straight losses, Whipple knew he had to get his team physically ready to go for this game. By doing so, he made them practice in pads, which the team felt had a great affect on their play.
“It helped a lot,” Bryton Barr said. “I really stressed to the defense that we need to carry how we practice over to game day. It showed today.”
Barr was one of the main reasons UMass was able to stifle the Charlotte attack. The linebacker finished with a career high 21 tackles, including a sack and six tackles for loss.
Three of the 49er touchdowns came in the second half, after the game was already in hand. The Minutemen were able to control the line of scrimmage and kept Charlotte to just 2 yards per carry.
“We had to change something,” Whipple said of going pads all week at practice. “We had to change the attitude. The guys, the way they handled it, was really good. I guess it worked.”
UMass is back in action next week, traveling to Ohio to take on the Bobcats.
Thomas Johnston can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TJ__Johnston.