Minutemen fall to Chippewas in finale
Central Michigan defensive back Jahleel Addae (4) and defensive back Jarret Chapman (29) tackle Massachusetts quarterback A.J. Doyle (15) in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in Foxborough, Mass., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. Central Michigan won 42-21. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Massachusetts running back Michael Cox (5) breaks a tackle by Central Michigan defensive back Anthony Young (20) on a touchdown run in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game in Foxborough, Mass., Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
FOXBOROUGH — The best possible takeaway for UMass football from a consistently trying and difficult first campaign as a Division I FBS member has to be the last three weeks of the 2012 season, which featured the Minutemen’s only victory and two other winnable games with leads deep into the second half.
For the second straight week, though, prosperity didn’t last for UMass Friday afternoon, despite its 21-14 lead late in the third quarter. Central Michigan used a pair of touchdowns 33 seconds apart to first tie the game and then take the lead, and Zurlon Tipton ran for 185 yards and four touchdowns to pace the Chippewas to a 42-21 victory over the Minutemen in the season finale before 6,385 at Gillette Stadium.
UMass concluded its season at 1-11 overall, 1-7 within the Mid-American Conference. While the viability of competing at the college game’s highest level and playing home games some 90 miles from campus will remain an ongoing debate, the Minutemen -- and head coach Charley Molnar, who finished his first season -- are locked in on continued improvement and much better days.
“I see this whole thing getting better. I was perfectly happy just to play another 12 games and watch it develop that way,” said Molnar. “In hindsight, it was a lot greater transition than I wanted to believe. I knew it was gonna be tough. I knew the field would not be level in virtually any game that we played. It’s a process that going to take patience, and we have to keep forging forward and not take our sight off the plan.”
True freshman A.J. Doyle, who’d seen action in seven previous games, made his first career start at quarterback Friday and completed 30-of-45 passes for 253 yards, with two touchdowns and three interceptions. His favorite target was tight end Rob Blanchflower, who caught 10 balls for 100 yards and a touchdown, the best receiving day for a UMass tight end since Kerry Taylor’s 119 yards in 1998. Deion Walker (touchdown) and Alan Williams each had seven catches, and Michael Cox ran for 66 yards and a score for the Minutemen.
“Today I felt good but I didn’t put it all together, didn’t play well enough to win,” said Doyle. “There’s obviously a lot of areas to improve upon, throwing three picks, especially two in our own end of the field, putting the defense in a bad spot.”
Central Michigan (6-6, 4-4 MAC), which became bowl-eligible with its sixth win of the season, took over after UMass failed on fourth-and-2 from its own 47 and drove 48 yards in 10 plays, finished off by Tipton’s first TD run, a 1-yarder, with 7:54 to go in the first quarter. The Chippewas’ lead grew to 14-0 early in the second at the end of a 77-yard drive, when quarterback Ryan Radcliff threw a 5-yard scoring pass to tight end Connor Odykirk in the back left corner of the end zone.
UMass’ Darren Thellen then picked off Radcliff and ran the interception back 25 yards to the CMU 9-yard line, setting up a 1-yard TD run by Cox, who stretched out to hit the left pylon with 9:23 to go in the half and pulled the Minutemen to within 14-7.
Doyle drove UMass to the CMU 12 on its next series, but threw an interception to Jason Wilson in the end zone. The Chippewas had to punt and UMass got back to even with just four ticks left on the first-half clock. From the 8-yard line, Doyle hit Blanchflower on a post pattern for the tying touchdown. The drive was kept alive when Doyle’s pass deflected off Walker’s hand and into the hands of Jordan Broadnax, who completed a 31-yard catch-and-run down to the 8.
The Minutemen then took the second-half kickoff and, with Doyle completing all five of his passes, drove 65 yards to take the lead. Doyle, rolling out to his right, zipped an 11-yard pass to Walker put UMass up 21-14 with 11:34 to play in the third. As it turned out, those were the Minutemen’s final points of the day.
An exchange of punts gave CMU the ball at its own 30 and Tipton began to gash the UMass defense, carrying seven times for 57 yards and wrapping it up on a 3-yard TD run with 2:21 to go, making it a 21-21 game.
Two plays later, Doyle was intercepted by Jahleel Addae, who brought the ball back 30 yards to the UMass 9. Tipton did the rest on first down, bolting straight up the middle for the go-ahead score at the 1:48 mark.
Almost immediately, the Chippewas got the ball back on an interception by Avery Cunningham, setting themselves up at the UMass 42. Radcliff hit Tipton for an 18-yard gain on first down and Saylor Lavallii did the rest, taking it in from the 6-yard line for a 35-21 CMU lead with 12:16 remaining.
“You have your foot on someone’s throat, you can’t pick your foot up and reposition it,” said Molnar. “We have a team that’s down, and for some reason we let them up. We think we’ve got them and we try to do some things that are out of character for us. You can’t have that, especially in the second half of a tight football game. It’s not the result that we wanted, but we got what we deserved.”
UMass managed to drive from its own 21 to the Central Michigan 38 before losing the ball on downs. Two plays later, Tipton took a pitch from Radcliff and swept up the left sideline for a 61-yard touchdown run, capping off his day and the scoring with 6:19 to play. No opponent had rushed for four touchdowns against the Minutemen since Kevin Richardson of Appalachian State in the 2006 Division I-AA national championship game.
“It’s definitely a force that pushes you when you finish on a note like this,” said Blanchflower, a junior. “Nobody likes losing the way we just lost, and finishing our season with only one win. That’s not something that you come to play Division I football to do. The taste in our mouth is not going to go away.”
Senior linebacker Perry McIntyre had a game-high 18 tackles and a sack in his final game for the Minutemen. His 354 career tackles leave him ninth on UMass’ all-time list. McIntyre and 13 other seniors were recognized in a pregame Senior Day ceremony.
“Being part of the first class to move up to the FBS level is definitely an honor,” said McIntyre. “I didn’t see this coming at all, especially when I was being recruited. We didn’t go through a lot of highs during the season, but we stuck together, and I’m very proud to be part of this team.”
Coming off a school-record 11 losses, Molnar sounded a hopeful and even prophetic note in looking toward the 2013 season that will begin Aug. 30 in Madison, Wis., against Wisconsin, and beyond.
“I’m impatient, but I understand the process, and the process has to play itself out,” said Molnar. “Our guys have a ways to go to be truly competitive at the I-A level. It’s beyond the horizon right now, but it’s not so far away that we won’t see it happen. It’s gonna happen.”