Vols hold off Minutemen

  • Tennessee defensive back Emmanuel Moseley (12) tackles Massachusetts wide receiver Andy Isabella (23) during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Knoxville, Tenn. (Clavin Mattheis/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP) CALVIN MATTHEIS

  • Tennessee defensive back Micah Abernathy (22) breaks up a pass intended for Massachusetts wide receiver Andy Isabella during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Knoxville, Tenn. (Clavin Mattheis/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP) CALVIN MATTHEIS

For The Recorder
Sunday, September 24, 2017

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Already without its best player, UMass lost its starting quarterback, its best offensive lineman and a starting cornerback in the second half on the road against an SEC team.

Despite all of that, the Minutemen still had the ball twice in the final 5 minutes, 34 seconds with a chance to pull ahead of Tennessee.

But UMass couldn’t gain enough yards to even threaten either time and fell, 17-13, Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

“I’m proud of the way they played,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said. “We wanted to get it to a one-possession game in the fourth quarter and we did, but we just couldn’t make the play we needed to get us over the top.”

Trailing 17-6 with 7:32 left in the third quarter, quarterback Andrew Ford led a 75-yard drive and hit Sadiq Palmer from 3 yards out at the sideline in the end zone. Logan Laurent made the extra point to cut UMass’ deficit to 17-13 with 2:46 left in the third.

The Minuteman defense, which had 12 tackles for loss in the game, had two in the ensuing drive and forced a punt as it looked like UMass had momentum.

But on the first play on the Minutemen’s next drive, Elliot Berry sacked Ford (11-for-17, 129 yards, one touchdown), who was scrambling looking for an open receiver. The junior quarterback got up to head to the sideline, stumbled and fell again before being led off. He didn’t return.

UMass was forced to punt two plays later, but Jarell Addo sacked Vols quarterback Jarret Guarantano on first down. Instead of falling on the loose ball, UMass’ Rod Jones Jr. opted to try to pick it up and run but couldn’t get it and Brett Kendrick recovered.

Ross Comis (2-for-5, 8 yards passing), who’d played one snap in the first half, struggled to move the offense. The UMass defense kept the game in reach, forcing three fourth-quarter punts. One of those came from the Volunteers’ 8 giving the Minutemen the ball at the UT 48 with 5:34 left. Two runs by Marquis Young (14 carries, 76 yards) made it third-and-7 from the 45.

Whipple called for a quarterback draw. He said he planned to go for it on fourth down if Comis gained a couple yards. But the junior quarterback was stopped at the line of scrimmage and UMass chose to punt, with three timeouts left and 3:47 left on the clock.

“If it was fourth-and-3, I would have probably gone for it, but we had three timeouts,” Whipple said.

Tennessee eventually had to punt, but not before gaining 26 yards and a key first down that allowed it to wipe 2:38 off the clock leaving UMass with no timeouts and 85 yards to go with 69 seconds left.

The Minutemen only advanced 2 yards before Comis’ fourth-down pass fell incomplete with 22 seconds left ending the game.

“If you told me it was going to be a four-point game and we’d have the ball with 6 minutes to go on the 50 yard line, I’d have taken it any day,” Whipple said. “We just didn’t get it done.”

Comis put blame on himself.

“It’s my job to come in. I have to come out and make some more plays,” Comis said. “We have to win that game. That’s on me. … We had the chance. The defense played unbelievable and kept giving us the ball back.”

There was no official word on Ford’s injury. He didn’t have his helmet at the end of the game, which is usually a sign of concussion-precaution. With tight end Adam Breneman already out for the game, right tackle Jack Driscoll and corner Lee Moses were also sidelined during the game.

“We’re not deep enough to play against Tennessee (without them),” Whipple said.

There will be no status updates until next week. UMass (0-5) will host Ohio, Saturday at noon.

Junior linebacker Bryton Barr thought UMass missed an opportunity.

“We played better than them. They’re a heck of a team, obviously,” said Barr, who had 12 tackles. “Eliminate a couple mistakes and we’re winning that game. We have to put this behind us and get ready for Ohio.”

After a scoreless first half, Tennessee used a 66-yard pass play to set up a 12-yard run by John Kelly that gave the Vols a 7-0 lead with 4:33 left in the first half.

But the UMass offense answered efficiently. Young’s 39-yard run launched a 75-yard Minuteman drive. After a Butch Jones unsportsmanlike conduct gave UMass a first down on the UT 5. Whipple put Comis in the game. He faked a handoff to Young up the middle that fooled the defense, allowing him to race into the end zone untouched with 2:57 left in the half.

Michael Schreiner, who’d notably missed three field goals last week, had been perfect on extra points all season. But the true freshman missed wide left to leave the score 7-6 with 2:57 left.

Perhaps buoyed by still holding the lead, Tennessee stretched its edge before intermission. Quinten Dormandy piloted a 75-yard drive in 2:32 and hit Tyler Byrd crossing the back of the end zone for a 5-yard TD pass with 25 seconds left to make it 14-6 at halftime.

Whipple thought his team grew during the game.

“We’re better. We’re playing the run better. Guys believe in each other,” Whipple said. “We came down here and there wasn’t any flinch at all. They battled and we grew as a team.”