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Keeping Score

Keeping Score: Off the grid

Good morning!

The UMass football team died another slow, agonizing death this fall, outscored 396-140 compared to 482-152 a year ago, a slight improvement but not enough to prevent another 1-11 season.

It’s not easy winning only one of twelve games. It takes bad decisions, crucial penalties and turnovers in the red zone, and they got it done. Or undone.

Opposing quarterbacks posted a near perfect 151.0 passer rating; opposing running backs averaged 5.3 yards a carry and rushed for 23 touchdowns to the Minutemen’s five.

Last month a friend said he started yelling at the radio when UMass athletic director John McCutcheon told an apparently clueless interviewer that the program was on track and would likely win its last three games against Akron, Central Michigan and Ohio. They lost all three and were outscored 101-37.

In its final regular season rankings, USA Today put UMass one spot ahead of Holy Cross. The Crusaders are an FCS (Division I-AA) team that went 3-9 and had fifteen players on scholarship this season. UMass has 85 players on scholarships, all underwritten by state taxpayers.

UMass coach Charley Molnar brushed off his team’s 0-4 start saying, “At the end of the day, the MAC East is where it’s at for us.”

And when the Minutemen finished 1-7 in the MAC East, Molnar took a page out of the Toot Cahoon handbook and said, “We’re still two recruiting classes away. Wait’ll you see us in three years.”

Trouble is, Molnar doesn’t get the pick up the crop. There are 124 other FBS teams vying for the same talent, and Rivals.com ranks the Minutemen tied for 111th (with South Alabama) in the 2014 recruiting chase. Another site, 247sports.com, ranks them a bit better at 97th, good for fifth-best in the ultra-weak Mid-American Conference.

High school football players get ranked from five stars down-- defensive end Da’Shawn Hand of Woodbridge (Va.) High School is a consensus five star recruit bound for Alabama.

The Minutemen have no four or five star recruits. Rivals.com ranks J.T. Blyden of Cardinal O’Hara High School in Pennsylvania as their only three-star recruit. Blyden reportedly turned down offers from Rutgers and Eastern Michigan after UMass promised him he’d play tailback and not safety.

Three other UMass recruits — Jarrell Addo of Leominster High School, Jason Sylva of Dean Jr. College and Jake Largay of Granby (Ct.) Memorial High School all got three stars from 247sports.com.

Of UMass’s 14 “hard commits” only two — Addo and offensive tackle Dan DiNicola of the Dexter School in Brookline — are Massachusetts residents. Molnar had sought to get half his starters from the Commonwealth but is finding out that few local products have any loyalty to State U, and given the 2-22 record under Molnar, why should they?

It was on Dec. 8, 2011 that Molnar was named the school’s 29th football coach. According to USA Today, he was paid $418,930 this season, a figure that pales compared to Alabama coach Nick Saban’s $5.5 million or Penn State coach Bill O’Brien’s $3.3 million or Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo’s $1.5 million. Indeed, Molnar is listed as the 102nd-highest paid coach in the FBS.

Two finalists that Molnar beat out to get the job were reportedly Bill McGovern and Neal Brown. McGovern coached at UMass and was later the defensive coordinator at Boston College. He’s now the Philadelphia Eagles’ outside linebackers coach.

Brown played two seasons at UMass, catching four touchdown passes and earning a master’s in business administration. He stayed at Texas Tech until last year when Kentucky’s new coach Mark Stoops hired him to be his offensive coordinator. According to the school’s website Brown’s annual salary is $550,000.

Two years hence both men are probably happy with the way things turned out.

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Tim Schmitt is in cold and snowy Alliance, Ohio, where he’ll be one of the on-field officials for today’s Division III national semifinal between Mount Union College and North Central College of Naperville, Ill. Both teams are 13-0, tickets are $8 and kickoff is at noon.

“Mount Union’s tough. They’re the ones that win it just about every year,” said Schmitt, who was the referee for the Thanksgiving Day tilt between Pioneer and Franklin Tech.

The Purple Raiders have won 11 national titles, hold the nation’s longest win streak at 28 and have won 71 straight games at 98-year-old Mount Union Stadium which holds 5,600 fans. This will be their 19th consecutive trip to the semis. Last week they barely kept the streak alive with a 62-59 win against Wesley College of Dover, Del.

Today’s winner plays the winner of the other semifinal between the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Linfield (Ore.) College in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl on Dec. 20 in Salem, Va.

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Turners Falls football coach Chris Lapointe is at the Mass. State Police Academy in New Braintree, 50 miles from Gillette Stadium where last week Littleton High School rolled up 52 points against Cohasset High School to win the D-VI Super Bowl. The Tigers beat the Skippers, 52-35, and they beat TFHS in the semis, 52-26.

Travis Bassett — a Littleton player with a Powertown name — scored a Super Bowl record five touchdowns. According to Littleton coach and AD Mike Lynn, Bassett’s being recruited by Trinity and Stonehill colleges. A Boston newspaper reported that Tigers’ quarterback Alex McLaughlin had accepted a baseball scholarship at Coastal Carolina near Myrtle Beach.

“That’s erroneous,” said Lynn. “He’s applied and been accepted, but he’s still waiting on the baseball component. He’s back looking to play football and/or baseball at the next level, still weighing his options.”

McLaughlin goes into his senior season with a 16-2 pitching record.

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Former TFHS coach Fran Togneri said that sportswriter Cam Ward practiced with the scout team while it was preparing for the 1998 Western/Central Mass. Super Bowl against Northbridge High School.

“Cam did a great job the whole week and gave us a realistic picture of (their best player) Rick Asadoorian’s size and speed.”

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During their recent barnburner, TV announcer Verne Lundquist told an anecdote about the intensity of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry. “My wife Nancy and I were driving from Tuscaloosa to Atlanta. We stopped for lunch in Oxford, Ala. We bought a coffee mug, one for Auburn one for Alabama, we went to pay for them. The young lady at the cash register said, ‘Y’all buying these for gifts, or y’all a split family?’”

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Squibbers: Free agent prices are going up, Robinson Cano for $240 million and Jacoby Ellsbury for $153 million. Last year Josh Hamilton signed for $123 million and B.J. Upton inked a deal worth $75 million. Hamilton batted .250 with 21 home runs and 79 RBIs for the Angels, and Upton batted .184 with nine home runs and 26 RBIs for the Braves. ... Red Sox shares for winning the World Series were $307,322; Indians shares for being eliminated in the wild card game were $15,107. ... On this coast we have Bill Belichick and on that coast is Colin Kaepernick, who according to the New York Times used 86 words to answer nine questions in a recent conference call. ... When Don Criqui asked sidekick Steve Tasker if the Pats should kick a field goal on fourth-and-short last Sunday he answered, “Yeah. You take the three points and it’s a nine point disadvantage.” Huh? ... TK Sheehy’s top client, former UMass defenseman Justin Braun, is tied for the NHL lead in plus/minus. ... UNH plays Southeastern Louisiana State in the FCS quarterfinals today at Strawberry Stadium, deep in the heart of Dixie. ... College bowls begin next week with 35 in 17 days. When Lou Holtz’s Arkansas team got pelted by oranges in the Orange Bowl he said, “I’m glad it wasn’t the Gator Bowl.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.

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