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 shows huge off-season improvement in 41-30 victory over New Mexico State

Minutemen win first season opener against an FBS team since 1984
Sophie-Zoe Schreyer
Daily Collegian (2022)

The Massachusetts football team began the 2023 season on the right foot, taking home a 41-30 win over the New Mexico State Aggies on Saturday. The team looked much improved compared to 2022, executing on both offense and defense throughout all four quarters, but especially in the fourth.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, new UMass (1-0) starting quarterback Taisun Phommachanh took his time stepping up in the pocket. He delivered a missile over the middle of the field in between three Aggies (0-1) defenders, right on the money. Christian Wells snatched the ball out of the air 19 yards downfield and took two huge hits just after pulling it in. He bounced off defenders, taking the ball all the way down to the New Mexico 11-yard line. The 68-yard catch was a huge momentum shift in the Minutemen’s direction.

The offense had a huge game, showing explosiveness while also showing good consistency. With 41 points in the game, it was more than any game in 2022.

“[Offensive coordinator Steve Casula] may have taken some crap from people last year,” head coach Don Brown said. “He didn’t take any from me. I know how good a football coach he is … I’ve got great confidence in him and his ability.”

On the following first down from the 11, Phommachanh took a bootleg around the right edge weaving in between Aggies defenders. The junior quarterback dove into the endzone for a rushing touchdown to take a 10-point lead. Phommachanh ended his first start under center since high school with 10 completions for 192 yards. He added 17 attempts on the ground for 96 yards and a touchdown.

The fourth-quarter offense for UMass continued minutes later. Phommachanh ran for a first on a huge fourth and seven to extend a solid drive. Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams took a handoff from the 10-yard line, bouncing it out to the outside and hitting the pylon for a touchdown.

After taking the lead early in the first quarter, the Minutemen never looked back. Never once did UMass fall behind.

“I just think the guys, they never wavered and that was the biggest point I was concerned about,” Brown said. “When we got to that point … it did not happen.”

The Minutemen defense came out of the gate on a mission. On a third and six and just the third defensive play of the game, Michael Oppong snagged an interception on a slant route intended for New Mexico receiver Jonathan Brady. With a blitz on for UMass, Aggies quarterback Diego Pavia was forced to get the ball out fast. Oppong’s pick put the offense in a great position to come away with points at the opposing 35-yard line.

After gains of eight and 17 on the first two plays of the following drive, Phommachanh tossed an end around back to Anthony Simpson that he took around the edge and into the end zone. The edge was sealed by a great block from Gino Campiotti, allowing Simpson to use his speed to put the Minutemen on top to start the game. The 10-yard rushing touchdown was the first of Simpson’s collegiate career.

New Mexico tried a new quarterback in the second quarter to switch things up and invigorate its offense. Eli Stowers checked into the game and handed off a read option to Ahmonte Watkins who immediately got around the edge in the blink of an eye. Watkins wasn’t touched on the play and used his speed to outrun the entire UMass defense, taking an 80-yard rush to the endzone.

New Mexico showed off its explosive passing game with a huge 62-yard bomb over the top of the UMass defense. The Aggies needed the explosive plays to continue late in the game for an attempt at a comeback. This attempt at finding big plays ultimately backfired on the following drive, with Isaiah Rutherford jumping a route and making a house call for the Minutemen. The 55-yard pick-six extended their lead to 17.

Pavia rebounded with another deep strike nearing five minutes left in the contest. A 40-yard dime was just far enough to not be swatted away and was caught for another deep passing touchdown.  With the Aggies down by 10 points late in the fourth, the Minutemen defense needed one more stop to cap off a huge win. Zukudo Igwenagu came barreling in from the defensive line smashing into the quarterback and forcing a fumble. Billy Wooden fell on the loose ball to secure the victory.

UMass looks to continue its momentum from the big win into its next game when they travel to Auburn. Kickoff against the Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium is set for Saturday, Sep. 2 at 3:30 p.m.

“Obviously, our guys were able to take care of our business and you know, hopefully, this is a great start to the new year,” Brown said. “…I just feel good [Saturday]. It’s nice winning. The alternative, I can tell you, sucks.”

Mike Maynard can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @mikecmaynard.

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