Maine spoils Minutemen’s ‘home opener’

FOXBOROUGH — Less than 90 seconds into Saturday’s game, UMass had zoomed downfield to take a 7-0 lead over Maine, and the Minutemen’s 2013 home opener began to look for all the world like what a Division I FBS football team is supposed to do against a Division I FCS opponent.

Yet prosperity didn’t last, not even for a full quarter. Maine, their old Yankee Conference/Atlantic 10/Colonial Athletic Association rival, turned the tide with the next 24 points and controlled the clock and the action to the end, posting a not-that-close 24-14 victory over the Minutemen in front of 15,624 at Gillette Stadium.

Even though the 2-0 Black Bears were rated as slight favorites going into Saturday, UMass needed a validating win in Game 14 of the FBS era and didn’t come close to it. Through the first 13 games, the Minutemen weren’t favored or expected to win any of them. That won’t change in the next two weeks at least, with non-conference games against Big 12 Conference and Southeastern Conference opposition looming.

“Every loss, to me, is shattering. We probably incented Maine to come out and play a great game,” said UMass coach Charley Molnar. “There is no gap between us and them, so they had a chance to win. Three or four years from now, it should be a different story, but that’s irrelevant. Today is Maine’s day.

“Offensively we just can’t sustain drives, and our defense just couldn’t get a rest. There’s a litany of things that went wrong today. Hats off to Maine, they played a very good football game, almost error-free, and certainly that made a big difference.”

Maine punished the Minutemen with some 221∕2 minutes of possession time in the second half alone and nearly 38 minutes overall, plenty of time to roll up 514 yards of total offense compared to UMass’ 265. Black Bears quarterback Marcus Wasilewski threw for 267 yards and ran for a team-high 76 to spearhead the victory.

On the game’s opening kickoff, UMass’ Trey Dudley-Giles ripped off a 41-yard return to his own 46, and Mike Wegzyn found Stacey Bedell for a 47-yard pass play on the first play from scrimmage. Three plays later, from the Maine 7, Wegzyn hit Bernard Davis on a post pattern for the lead score just 1:23 into the action.

Maine looked primed to answer on its first series when Justin Perillo got wide open down the right sideline for a 48-yard catch-and-run to the UMass 5. But on first down, Wasilewski was picked off by the Minutemen’s Jovan Santos-Knox in the end zone.

The teams then exchanged punts, but Dudley-Giles muffed the catch on his attempted return and the Black Bears’ Khari Al-Mateen recovered at the UMass 40. That drive advanced to the 9-yard line before a 26-yard field goal by Sean Decloux put Maine on the board trailing 7-3.

Al-Mateen then seemed to have put the Black Bears in position to take the lead when he intercepted Wegzyn at the Maine 49 and returned it to the UMass 14. There, Bedell hit him and forced a fumble which UMass lineman Anthony Dima recovered to give the ball back to the Minutemen. That drive eventually ended on downs at the Maine 29, part of a stretch of 11 straight UMass possessions that resulted in a punt, a turnover or a loss on downs.

Ricky Stevens gave the visitors the lead for good with 10 minutes left in the first half, splitting a seam straight up the middle for a 35-yard touchdown run and a 10-7 advantage that carried until halftime.

Late in the third quarter, Maine put the matter out of reach with a pair of scores just over three minutes apart. Zedric Joseph went in from a yard out to cap a 68-yard drive with 4:29 to go. After a UMass punt, Wasilewski took off on a quarterback draw for a 39-yard TD run at the 1:18 mark, boosting the Black Bears into a 24-7 lead.

A.J. Doyle, who came on to relieve Wegzyn at quarterback at the start of the third quarter, completed just two of his first seven passes for three yards, but finally engineered UMass’ second scoring drive early in the fourth quarter. From the Maine 45, Doyle completed four passes, the last of eight yards to Tajae Sharpe in the back right corner of the end zone with 11:10 remaining.

The teams exchanged punts before the Black Bears killed the final 7:25 with a 14-play drive from their own 19 to the UMass 6, all on the ground. They spared UMass the indignity of adding another touchdown when Wasilewski took a knee on the game’s final snap.

Maine’s 21-season head coach Jack Cosgrove may have issued the harshest indictment of UMass, unwittingly or not, in describing his team’s game-sealing drive. “We physically ran the football at them every rep, and they couldn’t stop us. That’s just heart-and-soul stuff. That’s really good stuff on a football team, when you can do that and close out a game like that.”

Wegzyn finished 13-of-25 passing for 139 yards with a touchdown and an interception, while Doyle went 7-for-17 for 62 yards and a score. Bedell went for 58 of the Minutemen’s 64 rushing yards.

“I don’t think we played to our best ability. They played high-caliber football. Quite frankly, I’m impressed,” said UMass linebacker Stanley Andre. “It’s not discouraging, we don’t have our heads down. We just need production on both sides and I don’t think we got it today.”

Molnar acknowledged the growing tension and frustration among fans and observers with the absence of tangible results so far in the FBS era.

“I’ve pretty well insulated myself from that. If I took every game as an indictment, I would probably have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning,” said Molnar. “Maybe for the first time, I had somebody, when I was walking off the field, just blistering me. He’s entitled to it. He’s disappointed, and so am I.

“I think the people that are firmly on the bandwagon understand that this wasn’t gonna be easy. They know the strengths and weaknesses of our program, where we’re at, where we’re going, what we’re trying to build this thing with.”

UMass travels to Manhattan, Kan., to face Kansas State of the Big 12 Saturday at 7 p.m. before hosting Vanderbilt Sept. 21 at noon at Gillette Stadium.

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