UMass falls short of upset, losing 20-13 against Eastern Michigan

Minutemen offense fails to rally in the second half

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Dylan Nguyen/Daily Collegian (2022)

By Judah Katz, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts football team fell short of an upset win against Eastern Michigan on Saturday. The Eagles (3-2) fell behind 13 points halfway through the third quarter, only to respond with a 20-0 run of their own to steal the win on their home field.

UMass (1-4) came up a yard short on the last play of the game, sending it into deeper waters as the Minutemen enter the month of October.

The Minutemen started the game off hot, forcing an Eagle turnover from a fumble on the seventh play of the opening drive. Defensive lineman Billy Wooden forced the ball out on a completed pass for a loss, recovered by cornerback Jordan Mahoney.

For the first time all season, the Minutemen had field position early in the game, starting their first drive on offense at the Eagles’ own 49-yard line. UMass jumped on its  immediate defensive stand with its fifth touchdown of the season on a designed quarterback run by Gino Campiotti.

Campiotti had one of the most impressive stat lines on the day for the Minutemen, rushing for 118 yards on 25 attempts, which were more than 70 percent of all yards gained on the ground for the team. He also ended the game with 87 passing yards, his best dual-threat performance of the season so far.

“I thought he played pretty darn well,” Massachusetts head coach Don Brown said.

UMass continued to bring the heat, finding major success pressuring EMU’s backup quarterback Austin Smith, in for the injured Taylor Powell. They held the hometown Eagles to two for five on third down attempts through two quarters, and just over 10 minutes of possession time. To cap off a lopsided first half, the Minutemen were able to sneak in a late field goal to extend their lead to 10-0 heading into the locker room for halftime.

The Eagles found themselves in a 13-point hole with a long way to go in the third quarter. Ramping up their intensity, they began their retaliation. The following drive, Eastern Michigan marched down the field on 11 plays for 75 yards to cut the lead to single digits.

UMass changed up its offense coming out of halftime, relying more on its running backs and its passing game, instead of Campiotti keepers. The Eagles feasted on the switch, silencing their opponent’s offense at every turn. They forced the Minutemen into three punts in the third quarter, solidifying that the tides had turned. Eastern Michigan took the lead with 12 seconds to go in the third, on a touchdown from Smith to Tanner Knue, who blazed through the Minuteman secondary with ease.

UMass was shut down again to start the fourth quarter, resulting in a punt. The Eagles took advantage of the Minutemen’s second half silence, on a crucial touchdown run by Darius Boone to take a one score lead down the stretch.

Eastern Michigan almost sealed the deal with a Mark Lee Jr. interception off Campiotti, who scrambled to the right sideline, only to try and throw across his body back to the middle, right into the hands of the Eagles secondary. This mistake almost laid their bed, but a late stand by Brown’s defense allowed the Minutemen one last chance at glory, a chance to tie the game.

Campiotti continued to push his team forward with quarterback keepers as they marched back down the field. The crowd continued to get louder as the clock began to wind down. On the biggest third down of the game, Campiotti danced in the pocket and found wide receiver George Johnson for a 10-yard pickup to bring the chains within a yard of a first down deep into Eagles territory.

On fourth and one, with just under two minutes to go, UMass had one last chance to save the game. Out of the shotgun, Campiotti handed Kay’Ron Adams the football, with the game on line, and a yard to go.

Cutting to an opening in the left side of the line, it looked as though Adams had a window. Florida-born linebacker Joe Sparacio came flying in to make the game saving tackle, halting the hopes of the UMass faithful one last time. The Eagles escaped with a 20-13 victory, sending the Minutemen deep into the lower ranks of the FBS.

UMass totaled 255 yards as an offense, with 168 yards on the ground and 87 through the air. Featuring a more diverse play-calling approach, they kept the game competitive. A few late penalties crippled seemingly successful defensive stands, something that Coach Brown will undoubtedly focus on in practice next week.

“I got a bad taste in my mouth about those three DPIs [defensive pass interference],” Brown said. “Take a look at the film and you guys tell me what you think.”

UMass heads back to Amherst to take on Liberty University on Saturday, October 8. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.

Judah Katz can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @judah_katz.