Last Tango in Starkville

For The Recorder
Friday, November 10, 2017

Opposing players get flagged for fighting, that’s normal. But last week in Starkville, UMass offensive lineman Ray Thomas-Ishman Jr. got into it with receiver Jessie Britt during their team’s 34-23 loss to Mississippi State.

The dustup garnered little attention from the local media, but got plenty of real-time coverage. 

It happened late in the game after UMass quarterback Ross Comis was gang tackled by four Miss. State defenders. A tableau worthy of an Annie Leibovitz photo shoot ensued when four trainers ran out to tend to the injured Comis, while coaches Mark Whipple and Dan Mullen jawed at each other about the alleged cheap shot. 

That’s when the diminutive Britt wandered into the picture and was set upon by Thomas-Ishman Sr., whose 6-foot-5, 350-pound frame helped him survive five gunshot wounds on the streets of Philadelphia.

He grabbed the 5-foot-10 Britt like a pet owner would grab a wandering puppy, and when Britt retaliated he gave him a two-handed shiver straight in the face mask.

“We have a fight going on between two UMass players on the field!” exclaimed the SEC Network’s Taylor Zarzour. The camera caught it all, and the incident got big play on the sports dot-com sites. “UMass Hilarious Fighting Each Other while Losing…” reported saturdaydownsouth.com.

When play resumed, Thomas-Ishman Sr. was flagged for a personal foul. “His motor’s still running, he’s still boiling over from the exchange with Jessie Britt,” said analyst Andre Ware.

Thankfully, this time he went after a Bulldog player and not his teammate.

The Minutemen are scheduled to play Florida International University on Dec. 2 unless the Owls finish first in Conference USA-East. In that event, FIU will play the CUSA-West winner for the conference championship on Dec. 2.

The matter could be settled next week when FIU (6-2, 4-1) plays at Florida Atlantic University (6-3, 5-0). Both teams are favored to win their respective games today against Old Dominion and La. Tech.

The Minutemen will be rooting for FAU, hoping for the opportunity to end the season in sunny Miami.

UMass was eyeing an upset against No. 16 Miss. State until Bulldogs’ quarterback Nick Fitzgerald rushed for 136 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-foot-5 junior is on the draft boards going to Arizona to replace Carson Palmer. His coach Dan Mullen is the reported front-runner for the Florida vacancy.

Bulldogs radio announcer Neil Price called Comis “Coomis,” as in “Coomis under center,” and compared his scrambling ability to “shades of Brett Favre.”

Last spring, Mark Whipple hired Ed Pinkham to be his defensive coordinator, and Pinkham’s choice to be the defensive line coach was Shelburne native Dave Wissman.

The moves have paid off as UMass is 62nd in the FBS in total defense, allowing 389.6 yards a game. Boston College is 71st (397.7) and UConn is 128th, yielding 554.3 yards a game. The only FBS team worse than UConn is East Carolina, which allows 565.9 yards a game.

The UMass-Maine game at Fenway Park is the second of a three-game Gridiron Series. Friday night, a pair of Ivy League teams — Brown and Dartmouth — squared off in the shadow of the Pesky Pole, and Boston College plays UConn next Saturday.

The Black Bears play in the FCS and are 4-4. The Minutemen lead the all-time series, 41-17-1, but Maine won the last meeting, 24-14, on Sept. 7, 2013, in Foxborough.

Boston College will try to clinch a bowl berth today when it hosts North Carolina State at noon at Alumni Stadium. The Eagles are three-point underdogs.

Logan Laurent has resolved the team’s field goal issues. The junior place-kicker is 8-for-8 since he replaced freshman Michael Schreiner in the fifth game of the season.

Laurent converted 7-of-9 field goals in 2016, but Coach Whipple went with Schreiner, and the freshman newcomer missed all three of his attempts.

Laurent owns the 2017 highlight reel from doing a backflip after his field goal beat App. State in overtime.

Sandro Vitiello holds the UMass record for the longest field goal, booting a 52-yarder during a 27-0 win against Boston College in 1978.

According to USA Today’s list of FBS coaching salaries, some very bad teams are coached by men with some very large salaries. Tennessee coach Butch Jones is paid $4.1 million, Illinois coach Lovie Smith makes $3 million, and UConn coach Randy Edsall is pulling down $1 million,

Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain got a $12.9 million buyout after he was fired two weeks ago. His likely replacement, Dan Mullen, is making $4.1 million at Miss. State.

Mark Whipple makes $472,654 and has a $304,903 buyout.

It’s a toss-up whether athletic director Ryan Bamford keeps him or hires his own man. A lot will depend on what happens during the team’s next three games.