UMass football fans storm field after Minutemen drop UConn 27-13 for 1st win in 2 years

  • UMass running back Ellis Merriweather ran the ball 39 times for 171 yards, as the Minutemen beat UConn 27-13 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium for the team's first win in more than two years. FOR THE GAZETTE / J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

  • UMass running back Ellis Merriweather ran the ball 39 times for 171 yards, as the Minutemen beat UConn 27-13 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium for the team's first win in more than two years. FOR THE GAZETTE / J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

  • UMass running back Ellis Merriweather ran the ball 39 times for 171 yards, as the Minutemen beat UConn 27-13 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium for the team's first win in more than two years. FOR THE GAZETTE / J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/10/2021 12:23:41 PM

AMHERST – UMass fans couldn’t wait any longer to celebrate a football win.

With 15 seconds remaining on the clock and an ironclad two-score lead, junior Quinn McCarron – in his signature reindeer costume - led the charge over the ropes surrounding the field. Brady Olson just took a knee in the victory formation to seal a 27-13 victory over UConn on Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. It was the Minutemen’s first win since Sept. 28, 2019, snapping a 16-game losing streak, tied for the nation’s longest.

Fans swarmed the teams as they shook hands at midfield. The clock hit zeroes with a mob of Minutemen at the 50-yard line.

“We haven’t had that feeling in a long time,” junior running back Ellis Merriweather said. “I’m glad that we could bring that to the university.”

Merriweather carried the Minutemen there. He toted the football 39 times for a career-high 171 yards and two touchdowns. His longest rush went for 22 yards. Merriweather, the only healthy scholarship running back, gave UMass exactly what it needed on a day throwing was a struggle at times.

“I didn’t know I was going to carry it that much, but the line blocked their butts off,” he said. “They gave me those lanes, and I had a field day.”

Merriweather scored a one-yard touchdown with 12:46 remaining to put the Minutemen up 20-10 with 12 minutes, 46 seconds remaining, UMass’ first double-digit lead or second half lead since the victory over Akron in 2019.

The Huskies promptly drove to the red zone on the strength of a Nate Carer 46-yard run. UConn tight end Brandon Niemenski dropped a sure touchdown on third down from the 3, and the Huskies settled for a 20-yard field goal to cut the Minutemen’s advantage to one score.

UMass responded with an eight play, 78-yard drive. Olson started the drive with a 28-yard pass to Onuma Dieke off play action, then the Minutemen ran the ball seven times in a row. Wise finished it with a one-yard touchdown plunge to make it 27-13 with 4:45 left.

Wise carried the ball 11 times for 64 yards after splitting most of the second half with Olson. 

“We thought that they had some problems managing the edge of the defense, and Zamar could help us with that,” UMass coach Walt Bell said. “He’s always going to have a plan with us. As he continues to grow and mature, the more he’ll be able to do.”

That score put the game away, but the Minutemen struck first before the lead changed hands a few times.

Merriweather scored the first touchdown of his UMass career on the Minutemen’s first drive. He carried the ball 10 times for 58 yards and finished with a 9-yard score on a counter to the left with 8:11 left in the first to make it 7-0. The drive lasted 12 plays and covered 73 yards.

It gave the Minutemen their first lead since the first quarter against Northwestern on Nov. 16, 2019.

“Set the tone, set the tone. We were preaching that all week,” Merriweather said. “We don’t want to play catch up ball. That was the mindset the whole week, and everyone bought in.”

That lead didn’t last long. The Huskies responded in three plays: a 30-yard Nate Carter rush, a 10-yard rush from Carter and a 34-yard pass from quarterback Steven Krajewski to Keelan Marion. UConn only needed 56 seconds to cover 74 yards and knot the game at 7.

UConn went ahead on a 38-yard field goal with 1:58 left in the first. The Huskies were driving in the red zone until UMass linebacker Billy Wooden blew up a Carter run for a two-yard loss on third down. It was one of eight tackles for loss by the UMass defense.

Wise started the third quarter at quarterback. The Minutemen ran the ball five plays in a row for 57 yards. On one of the runs, Wise left UConn corner Durante Jones grabbing at shadows after a stutter step in the open field. 

The drive led to a game-tying 21-yard field goal by Cameron Carson that made it 10-10 with 9:27 left in the third quarter.

UMass regained the lead 13-10 on a Carson 28-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter. Eric Collins put the Minutemen in position with a 49-yard catch and run where he kept his balance shedding two attempted tackles. Olson then threw two incomplete passes and hit Collins on a six-yard tunnel screen to make it fourth-and-4 from the 10.

Bell opted to kick for the lead even as Carson was hitting just 50 percent from in close at that point.

“With our defense, as they continued to play well, we played the game really conservatively,” Bell said. 

UConn fumbled the subsequent kickoff and started the drive from its own 5. After a stuffed run, Krajewski floated a throw to the sideline that UMass corner Bryce Watts intercepted and returned to the five to set up Merriweather’s second touchdown run.

UMass trailed 10-7 at halftime despite a perfect opportunity not to. Cornerback Donte Lindsay snatched the Minutemen’s first interception of the season with 33 seconds left in the first half. Krajewski stepped up away from the pass rush on third and 18. He had plenty of turf ahead and likely could have run for the first down. Krajewski never saw Lindsay coming and threw it in the middle of the field.

“That was weighing on us as a group,” UMass corner Josh Wallace said. “We did a good job taking the ball away.”

Lindsay grabbed the ball out of the air and returned it five yards to the UConn 40. Olson ran for 12 yards then hit Rico Arnold on a screen for a 12-yard gain. After an incompletion, only three seconds remained on the clock. The Minutemen opted for a potential game-tying field goal. Carson missed from 26 yards out.

UMass’ defense only allowed UConn to converted 1-of-10 third downs. The Minutemen also only committed three penalties for 30 yards.

“Huge team win for us. I’m happy for our players, more than anything else,” Bell said. “Everything they’ve been through, it’s been a long time for these guys.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.


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