Late penalty hurts in UM’s 14-13 loss

FOXBOROUGH — The penalty is called “leaping,” and despite the term’s vagueness and lack of precision, its effect proved deadly to UMass’ chances of winning Saturday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

The Minutemen trailed Akron 14-13 with 1:30 left in the fourth quarter as Zips placekicker Robert Stein lined up a 25-yard field goal try, which he curled inside the right upright for an apparent 17-13 lead. At worst, UMass looked to get the football back, down by four with 90 seconds to play and one timeout left, still needing a tall-order touchdown.

Instead, the penalty flag flew and UMass defensive lineman Justin Anderson was slapped for “leaping” — by definition, using the body of a teammate or opposing player to gain leverage and propel himself higher in the air, or forward across the line of scrimmage, in an attempt to block the kick. The results: a personal foul, an automatic first down for Akron, the football advanced half the distance to the goal line, from the UMass 8 to the 4, the three points taken off the board and a chance for the visitors to run out the clock. The Zips did exactly that, working around the last UMass timeout for four kneeldowns to kill the clock and get out of town with their 14-13 victory.

UMass (1-9, 1-5 Mid-American Conference) dropped its second one-point decision at home this season and played its final home game of 2013 before an announced 10,599. All that remains for the Minutemen are road games at Central Michigan Nov. 23 and at Ohio Nov. 29.

“I was told by the ref that the fact I was a yard behind the line of scrimmage, and I jumped up and fell on top of my teammates as well as Akron (players), the fact I came down on everyone, that’s the reason they called the penalty,” said Anderson.

When asked if he knew the penalty existed, Anderson said simply, “Not at all. It’s a part of the game, and you live and you learn.”

The Minutemen lost the game as much for converting three first-quarter fumble recoveries into only three points, the first of two field goals by Brendon Levengood, and also failing to convert three fourth-down tries within Akron territory. Their only touchdown came midway through the third quarter when Mike Wegzyn threw a 2-yard scoring flip to Rob Blanchflower, giving UMass a 13-7 lead at the time.

Wegzyn, on in relief of the injured A.J. Doyle, completed all four of his passes during that 91-yard TD drive for 76 yards, but the last three UMass possessions of the day ended in an interception of Wegzyn by the Zips’ Anthony Holmes, a punt and a failed fourth-and-1 from the Akron 47. He finished 4-of-7 for those 76 yards, after Doyle had gone 13-of-21 for 75 yards with an interception.

Trailing 13-7, Akron (4-7, 3-4 MAC) took the UMass punt at its own 37 early in the fourth quarter and put together its eventual game-winning drive. Quarterback Kyle Pohl (20-of-33, 208 yards) moved the Zips to the UMass 17 before throwing to Jawon Chisholm along the right sideline. Chisholm cut upfield, went airborne inside the 5-yard line and managed to extend his left arm and the football inside the pylon for the score, then Stein’s extra point put Akron up 14-13 with 9:49 left in the game.

UMass moved from its own 29 to the Akron 47, facing fourth-and-1, but Jamal Wilson (22 carries, team-high 70 yards) was stopped for no gain by the Zips’ Cody Grice and Keontae Hollis. Akron took over and worked the last 6:39 off the clock, getting first-down gains of 13 yards by Conor Hundley and 18 yards by Chisholm (game-high 72 yards), whose run put the ball at the UMass 8 and set up Stein’s field-goal try, the leaping penalty and the opportunity for Akron to protect its slender one-point lead.

“We had plenty of opportunities to win the football game,” said UMass coach Charley Molnar. “It certainly didn’t come down to that last drive and the last sequence of events. We only came up with three points after three turnovers, all of them giving us the ball with momentum and pretty good field position.

“He jumped, which is certainly legal, and he landed on top of the guys in front of him, which makes it a personal foul,” Molnar said of the late penalty on Anderson.

Despite fumbling the ball away on each of its first three possessions — including on the very first play from scrimmage — Akron took a 7-6 halftime lead with a 10-yard TD scramble by Pohl, in between UMass’ field goals of 37 and 33 yards by Levengood.

Blanchflower became the Minutemen’s all-time leader in career receiving yards by a tight end, passing the late former NFL player Milt Morin to move into the top spot. With five catches for 26 yards, Blanchflower — like Morin, a Leominster native — ran his career total to 1,164 receiving yards, 13 more than Morin’s 1,151.

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