Keeping Score: Have team, will travel

Published: 10/23/2020 6:12:56 PM
Modified: 10/23/2020 6:12:45 PM

Good morning!
The Augusta Chronicle called Georgia Southern’s 41-0 win against UMass last Saturday a “drama free change of pace.” That about summed it up, a way to stay sharp going into today’s game at No. 25 Coastal Carolina.

The loss dropped the Minutemen to 0-8 in season openers since the so-called upgrade, outscored 314-84.

UMass got $60,000 for playing the Eagles. In two weeks the Minutemen will take home $100,000 for playing undefeated Marshall (4-0) and on Nov. 27 they’ll play at undefeated Liberty (5-0).

The Minutemen are mercenaries scrambling to sustain a modicum of gridiron relevance in the age of COVID-19. Nobody will get fired on account of the lopsided losses. All bets are off, it’s a crapshoot and here’s to you, pal. Coach Walt Bell and his staff can get a look at what they’ve got and what they’ll need next season.

Chances are they’ll need a running back, considering that Ellis Merriweather averaged 1.3 yards a carry in 16 attempts. In the third quarter, he took a handoff, made one step forward and fell down untouched. UMass QB Mike Fallon looked at the bench with both palms up as if to say, ‘Why’d you give me this guy?’

The game was played before 4,856 socially-distanced fans at Allen E. Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, the hometown of baseball pitcher John Rocker and late bluesman Blind Willie McTell.

Despite the geographic disparity, the two teams have a history. In 1998, Mark Whipple’s Minutemen upset the Eagles 55-43 to win the I-AA championship, and two decades later Whipple’s team beat them again, 55-20, in Amherst. Eagles coach Tyson Summers was fired the next day.

Last week’s game however was a foregone conclusion — one team with four games under its belt and the other with no games and a mere 17 practices. Eagles quarterback Shai Werts deftly combined the play-action pass with a triple option running game that was hell on cleats for the UMass secondary. Three times he threw touchdown passes to wide open receivers. “They’re watching Werts like he’s Houdini,” said ESPN2 analyst Dustin Fox.

The Eagles scored on four of their first five possessions and covered the 31-point spread with time to spare when Wesley Kennedy III’s 56-yard touchdown run gave them a 38-0 lead early in the third quarter.

Fallon was the first of three UMass quarterbacks. He’s a Sacred Heart transfer and the pride of Milton. In 1977, his father Mike tossed two touchdown passes against Lehigh in coach Dick MacPherson’s last game before he left for Syracuse.

Fallon the younger is a prototypical Yankee Conference signal caller: slender build, athletic, versatile — “kind of a steady Eddie” Bell told the Savannah Morning News. Good enough for FCS, but not the FBS. He took 28 snaps and completed seven of 12 passes for 41 yards and one interception.

Next audition was Josiah Johnson, a redshirt sophomore from the Bolles School in Jacksonville, whose alumni include Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst and Baseball Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Johnson completed 6-of-9 passes for 39 yards and one interception.

The most intriguing of the three was true freshman Will Koch of Niceville High School in the Florida panhandle. Last year, the 6-3 Koch guided Niceville to a 12-1 record and No. 5 ranking in Class 7A, the second-highest level based on enrollment. Koch only got in for three plays but wound up rushing for a team-high 41 yards, albeit against second-stringers.

As the score mounted, television broadcaster Bill Roth and his sidekick Dustin Fox sounded a bit like the comedy team Bob and Ray:

Roth: “At least they know what they’re in for.”

Fox: “Well, they’re in for a long day.”

When UMass punter George Georgopoulos shanked a kick and chased after it, Fox asked, “Have you ever seen a punter recover his own punt? That’s kind of rare.”

Roth bought into Bell’s plan of building UMass football into an East Coast version of the Iowa Hawkeyes or Wisconsin Badgers, the kind of hyperbole that UMass fans in maroon-colored glasses love hearing.

During the last two years, place kicker Cooper Garcia converted 65 of 66 PATs and 16 of 20 field goal attempts. His replacement Cameron Carson is a 6-foot, 150-pound left-footed kicker from Virginia who kicked two extra points for Maine last year.

Roth called him “the long-haired freshman from Leesburg” and he indeed could’ve passed for Trevor Lawrence’s cousin. Late in the first half he tried a 39-yard field goal. “Think he’s nervous?” asked Roth. “Do you recall your very first game as a Buckeye? Were you nervous? How did you feel?”

“Uh, I wanted to vomit,” said Fox.

Carson’s kick hit high off the left upright and bounced back onto the field. It was so UMass, so typical of the ways they come oh-so-close, in this case to spoiling the Eagles’ bid for their first shutout since skunking South Alabama two years ago, 52-0.

UMass was outgained in total yards, 436-191, but there was some good mixed with the bad. Da’Shon Ross recovered a fumble, redshirt freshman Avian Peah had a sack and defensive back Te’Rai Powell made five solo tackles. Up in the booth, Fox claimed that Bell had told him Powell was the best player on the team. “He told me, ‘Dude, this dude is legit.’”

Next stop for the dudes: Huntington, West Virginia.

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Marty Tirrell’s sentencing date in Iowa has been changed, this time until at least January. The Greenfield native and former local sports talk show host was arrested by the FBI in 2019 and charged with multiple counts of fraud. He reached a deal to plead guilty to one count and faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The assistant federal public defender assigned to his case, Melanie Keiper, requested a continuance until “at least January” so that he can avoid contracting COVID-19 in prison.

He is scheduled to appear in Greenfield District Court on Nov. 12 for a final pre-trial hearing on charges that he defrauded a local man out of $4,570 in Red Sox tickets.

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TRIVIA: The NY Post’s Phil Mushnick calls TBS’s claim that George Springer has more postseason home runs than Babe Ruth a “no context con.” Ruth’s only postseason at-bats were in the World Series, but Springer has the wild card, divisional and league championship series to pad his total.

According to baseball-reference.com, Ruth hit 15 World Series home runs and Springer has seven. One player has more than either of them. Who is it? (Answer below)

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SQUIBBERS: Anybody else getting hot under the collar watching Red Sox MVP Mookie Betts in a Dodgers uniform? … The SportsHub’s Jim Murray calls Jimmy Garoppolo a “Low Rent Dollar Store Tony Romo.” Tell us how you really feel, Jim. … What a beautiful sight to see Cody Bellinger’s home run land in a fan’s glove and not off a cardboard cutout, just like the good old days. … Trivia answer: Mickey Mantle leads all with 18 World Series home runs. … Mushnick noted in his “Equal Time” column that “The Braves have broken the postseason record for average gold chains per neck.” … Here’s Jake-in-Boston’s takeaway from Sunday’s Patriots loss, as told to Felger & Mazz: “Bill’s got two idiot kids with way too much power and daddy’s having to cover for them. His own nepotism is biting him in the butt right now.” The reference was to Steve Belichick, who coaches the defense, and brother Brian, who coaches the safeties. … With a man on first against Houston, Rays southpaw Blake Snell threw to first base once, twice, blew his nose into his sleeve, worked his jaw, flexed his shoulders, stared in, went into the stretch, threw again to first base — “measuring, thinking, contemplating,” said TBS’s Ron Darling. Total time between pitches: two minutes and 29 seconds. … Jarrett Stidham’s value has been downgraded to penny stock. During his brief career he’s 7-for-17 with one touchdown and three interceptions. If Cam Newton doesn’t work out, Belichick will go after Matt Ryan. … How about Buck Showalter managing the Red Sox? He can handle the fans and media, but ownership might want someone who’s less his own man. … The COVID protocols were worth it for South Carolina to beat Auburn for the first time in 87 years. … Five BC turnovers helped Va. Tech beat the Eagles last week, 40-14. … Todd Pletcher is on the cusp of saddling his 5,000th winner. At this writing, he had 4,991. … Jackie Robinson played in his first World Series in 1947, the same year he broke into the big leagues. “I experienced a completely new emotion when the National Anthem was played,” he said. “This time, I thought, it is being played for me as much as anyone else.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at chipjet95@yahoo.com




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