UMass unloads on Eagles for 55-20 Homecoming win

  • UMass’ Roderick Jones, right, and Chinedu Ogbonn (17) celebrate along the UMass sideline during the first quarter of a 55-20 Homecoming win over Georgia Southern Saturday in Amherst.

  • UMass’ Brennon Dingle (10) fumbles before crossing the goal line as Georgia Southern’s Kindle Vidor (20) closes in during the first quarter of the Minutemen’s 55-20 Homecoming win Saturday in Amherst. ap photo

  • UMass’ Jessie Britt, right, catches a touchdown pass as he crosses the goal line in front of Georgia Southern’s Darrell Baker during the first quarter of the Minutemen’s 55-20 Homecoming win Saturday in Amherst. ap photo

  • UMass running back Bilal Ally powers the ball through the Georgia Southern defense during the first quarter of a 55-20 Homecoming win Saturday in Amherst. ap photo

  • UMass running back Bilal Ally, right, has a big smile on his face as he looks at Georgia Southern’s Chris DeLaRosa knowing that it is clear sailing to the end zone for a UMass touchdown Saturday during a 55-20 Homecoming win by the Minutemen in Amherst. ap photo

For The Recorder
Sunday, October 22, 2017

AMHERST — All season, UMass has been hunting a recipe for its first win. As it turned out, gray uniforms, a quarterback rotation, forcing turnovers and having two weeks to prepare proved to be the elusive ingredient-mix the Minutemen had been searching for.

Playing a fellow winless program didn’t hurt either as UMass made the most of its opportunities and steamrolled Georgia Southern, 55-20, on Homecoming Day Saturday at McGuirk Stadium.

The win snapped a nine-game losing streak that included three last year.

All season, UMass coach Mark Whipple has lamented his team’s inability to get takeaways. The Minutemen got four of them Saturday, none bigger than the first one.

For a moment, and only a moment, UMass looked to be in trouble. Georgia Southern, which rarely passes, ran a play-action pass on the game’s first play from scrimmage. The Minuteman defense missed an assignment as quarterback Kado Brown found Mark Michaud wide open down the middle. Michaud had a clear path to the end zone and went 71 yards, but Isaiah Rodgers not only tracked him down, but stripped the ball when he arrived. Jarell Addo recovered the fumble at the UMass 3.

“I could feel the air coming out of the stadium as I was running,” said Addo, who was just a few paces behind Rodgers. “Isaiah made a play and I recovered. To get that recovery gave us life.”

Whipple was glad to see his players come together.

“For the first time our guys really fed off one another. They played complementary football. We didn’t really want the first play to happen. (Rodgers) dragged him down and got the ball out. That sparked us,” Whipple said. “We came out and did a good job offensively.”

Ross Comis, who started at quarterback for UMass, said the play set the tone.

“Obviously it’s a big mental swing. You think they’re going to go in for a touchdown on the first play. We put a first drive together and got into the end zone,” Comis said. “I think it’s the type of drive that can change the game. The play Isaiah made was a 14-point swing.”

Comis directed an 11-play 97-yard drive and hit Adam Breneman from a yard out to make it 7-0 with 9:37 left in the first quarter. That play started a stretch of consecutive touchdown passes on three straight offensive plays for the Minutemen.

After an Eagle punt, Comis hit Andy Isabella for a 68-yard TD reception. The speedy receiver did most of the work, outrunning the converging defense to make it 14-0 with 7:24 left in the first.

Myles Campbell fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Jake Froehlich recovered for UMass at the GSU 26. Comis connected with Jesse Britt to make it 21-0 with 7:10 left.

After a Georgia Southern TD, Bilal Ally gave UMass its most points in a quarter as an FBS program with a 19-yard run out of a wildcat that made it 28-7 with 1:47 left in the first.

Andrew Ford took over at QB in the second quarter and led UMass to three more scores and nearly a fourth, but Brennon Dingle had the ball swatted out of his outstretched hand as he leapt over a defender and tried to reach the ball across the goal line. The ball bounced out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.

Marquis Young, who was suspended for the first quarter, had 87 yards rushing, including a TD in the second quarter, as UMass outscored GSU, 20-10, to lead 48-17 at intermission.

The Minutemen weren’t as sharp in the second half, but they didn’t have to be, making enough plays to keep the Eagles from threatening.

UMass finished with a school-record 670 yards of total offense. Ally (16 carries, 116 yards, three touchdowns), and Young (13 for 101 yards, one TD) each cracked triple digits on the ground. Comis had his best day as a Minuteman completing 12 of 16 passes for 193 yards and three touchdowns. Ford was 9-for-12 for 157 and one TD.

The Minutemen held the run-dominant Eagles to just 136 yards on the ground.

“It’s hard for an option team to come back. We put them in some passing situations and took advantage of that,” Whipple said. “I just knew how close we were and how well they practiced throughout. They took advantage of mistakes and played well today.”