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 defeats Merrimack on homecoming weekend

Minutemen win consecutive games for first time since 2018
Kalina Kornacki
Daily Collegian (2023)

In front of the largest crowd that McGuirk Alumni Stadium has seen since 2016, the Massachusetts football team celebrated homecoming weekend with a victory against Merrimack on Saturday afternoon, 31-21. In the first ever match up between the two programs, the Minutemen (3-7) never looked back after taking a one-score lead into halftime against the Warriors (4-5, 3-2 North East Conference). This victory marked the first time since 2018 that the program has experienced consecutive wins, as well as the first time UMass has had three or more wins in a season, which also came in 2018.

The UMass offense struggled early in the game before picking up in the fourth quarter. Starting quarterback Taisun Phommachanh connected on just 45 percent of his passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, while star running back Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams garnered 88 yards on 23 rushing attempts one week after his career high 234 rushing yards and three touchdown performance in Week 9 against Army. Lynch-Adams became the second UMass running back in the FBS era to surpass 1000 rushing yards in a single season in the fourth quarter, joining former running back Ellis Merriweather.

“I feel like it helps [the offense] a lot, like a one-two punch with me and [Lynch-Adams],” Greg Desrosiers Jr. said. “Honestly, me and him, as a duo, we’re the best in the country I feel like. That dynamic duo is crazy … he opens stuff up for me and then I open up some stuff for him, and it just goes back and forth.”

Desrosiers Jr. carried the scoring load on his back on Saturday, replicating Lynch-Adams’ performance the week before and rushing for three touchdowns. Lynch-Adams got his three touchdowns on 34 carries, while Desrosiers Jr. needed less than a third of those to notch his three scores, rushing 10 times. All three scores came at the end of long runs where Desrosiers Jr. broke off to the outside and out-sped the Merrimack secondary.

The other touchdown on the UMass side came by way of George Johnson III off of a Phommachanh pass late in the first quarter. Phommachanh faked the hand-off to Lynch-Adams before rolling to right, where Johnson III broke off his block, beat his defender to the end zone and caught the ball near the right pylon. This score tied the game, and the Minutemen wouldn’t look back, scoring 31 unanswered points before Merrimack scored twice again late in the fourth quarter. One of these scores came from a kickoff return and the other coming off a trick play where Merrimack receiver Jelani Mason got a lateral and threw a touchdown pass to LJ Robinson.

“We had the kickoff return, and then we blew the trick play which was a disappointing deal,” head coach Don Brown said. “But at the same time, it’s nice to see one side of the ball pick up the other. There was a period of time where we weren’t doing much on the offensive side of the ball, and defensively, we took care of business through the first half and had a third quarter shutout.

UMass found itself in a hole early, as Merrimack scored on its second drive of the game, taking a 7-0 lead. Warriors’ quarterback Malakai Anthony hurled a ball to Jalen McDonald who found himself in triple coverage, but McDonald somehow came down with the ball, setting up his squad on the five-yard line. Two plays later, Anthony saw the left side of the field wide open and scampered in for the easy score. After this play, the Minutemen held Merrimack scoreless for the following 44 minutes and 39 seconds.

Much of the struggles that the Warriors faced could be attributed to the relentless UMass pass rush, which caused Anthony’s pocket to collapse, resulting in either sacks or early passes before the play could develop. The Minutemen finished with two sacks and six tackles-for-loss.

“We’ve done a lot of cover, four-man rush … and we’ve been successful with it. But this was an opponent we felt like, attacking them and rushing them with five, we would have an opportunity to get to the quarterback. They [Merrimack] were 4-of-13 on third down, that’s not good. For us, that’s less than 30 percent, and our goal is to be under 30 percent,” Brown said.

The Minutemen have a bye week coming up, but they are next in action on Nov. 18 against Liberty from Lynchburg, Va. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. and the game can be viewed on ESPN+.

Johnny Depin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Jdepin101.

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