UM wilts down stretch in opener

  • UMass players Nick Berus (23) and Jesse Monteiro (27), tackle Hawaii’s Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea Saturday during a crushing 38-35 independent football loss at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst. FOR THE RECORDER/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • UMass running back Marquis Young (8) hugs teammate Adam Breneman (81) before the start of a 38-35 independent football loss to Hawaii Saturday at McGuirk Stadium. Breneman went on to haul in nine passes for 179 yards. FOR THE RECORDER/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • UMass QB Andrew Ford looks downfield for a receiver Saturday during a 38-35 independent football loss to Hawaii at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst. Ford completed 21 or 30 passes for 275 yards, two TDs and an interception. FOR THE RECORDER/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • UMass QB Ross Comis scrambles right during a 38-35 independent football loss to Hawaii Saturday at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst. Comis completed one of four passes for 23 yards and ran for 15 yards on two carries. FOR THE RECORDER/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

For The Recorder
Sunday, August 27, 2017

AMHERST — The start of the 2017 season was uncomfortably similar to too many 2016 games for the UMass football team.

The Minutemen led by two touchdowns in the second half and were clinging to a lead with a minute remaining, but Hawaii scored the game-winning touchdown with 48 seconds left to beat UMass, 38-35, Saturday at McGuirk Stadium.

“We put a lot of time and effort into preparing for Hawaii. It’s definitely not an easy one. This one hurts. It hurts really bad,” UMass senior tight end Adam Breneman said. “There’s nothing we can do about it. We have to find ways to finish games like that. We’ve been in a lot of close game like that. We have to find ways to hit the nail on the head at the end of the game.”

UMass coach Mark Whipple spewed optimism despite the tough loss.

“It was a good game. Both teams played hard. Both teams made mistakes,” he said. “They made one more play. Credit Hawaii. … I know we’re going to be fine. The kids fought. We believe.”

After back-to-back Hawaii touchdowns erased UMass’ 14-point second half lead, Andy Isabella gave the Minuteman a lift with a 44-yard kickoff return to start the ensuing drive at Hawaii’s 46 with 13:34 left. Three plays later, quarterback Andrew Ford recovered his own fumble on UH 35 to make it third and 15.

UMass got most of it back on Ford’s 14-yard pass to Isabella. Whipple chose to go for it on fourth down and Marquis Young broke free around the left side. He sprinted 21 yards into the end zone to put the Minutemen ahead 35-28 with 11:41 left.

Hawaii answered with a drive all the way to the UMass 12, but Bryton Barr sacked Dru Brown forcing Hawaii to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Ryan Meskell with 5:23 left.

UMass tried to kill the clock, exclusively running the ball on its next possession. But the Minutemen used just 2:25 and moved just 11 yards on five plays before Logan Laurent punted the ball to the Hawaii 27 with 2:52 remaining.

John Ursua, who torched UMass all game, caught a 52-yard pass that gave Hawaii first and goal on the Minuteman 7.

From there Dru Brown hit Metuisela Unga for a touchdown to put Hawaii ahead with 48 seconds left.

UMass never got close to field-goal range and had the ball with 5 seconds left on Hawaii’s 45. Rather than attempt a deep Hail Mary, Whipple called for a short pass and what he hoped would be a series of laterals. But Marquis Young (25 carries, 85 yards) caught the ball and was quickly tackled, ending the game.

The game wasted a memorable day for Breneman, who caught nine passes for 179 yards. Ford completed 21 of 30 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Brown was 25-for-38 for 391 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Ursua caught 12 catches balls for 272 yards.

“In the new system on defense, we had some communication issues,” Whipple said. “We made Ursua look like Jerry Rice.”

UMass plays Coastal Carolina Saturday at 7 p.m.

Hawaii got on the board first. With all of his receivers and UMass defensive backs on the right side of the field, Brown scampered into the open space on left and raced into the end zone for a 29-yard TD with 8:51 left in the first.

Breneman leaped to turn a Ford overthrow into a 28-yard reception, giving UMass first and goal on the 6. Andy Isabella crossed the goal line on an end-around on the next play to make it 7-7 with 6:00 left in the first.

Both teams sputtered through most of the second quarter as penalties created a long and disjointed stretch. But on second down from the Hawaii 12, John Ursua got behind UMass safety Tyler Hayes and sprinted 85 yards for a touchdown that put the visitors up 14-7 with 1:57 left.

Ford ran the hurry-up effectively. Sadiq Palmer turned a short gain into a 33-yard reception by patiently using blockers to get down to the Warrior 7 with 16 seconds left. Two players later, a defensive pass interference gave UMass the ball on the 2 with 5 seconds left and no timeouts.

Whipple chose not to kick and spread out his receivers. Ford found Isabella to his left for the short TD to make it 14-14 aft halftime.

UMass’ momentum carried into the second half. Breneman had 58 of his receiving yards on the first drive of the second half, including a 17-yard catch that gave the Minutemen first down on the 1. Marquis Young ran around the left end for a touchdown that gave the home team its first lead, 21-14 with 11:12 left.

After the defense forced a three and out, the offense picked up where it left off. Ford directed a 65-yard drive that he capped with a 3 yard TD pass to fullback Malik Lee, giving the Minutemen a 28-14 led with 4:35 left in the third.

The two touchdown hole seemed to spark the Warriors. They marched 72 yards for a one touchdown. After the two teams traded punts, UMass freshman Jesse Britt fumbled the fair catch at the Minuteman 15. On the depth chart, sophomore Isaiah Rodgers was the No. 1 punt returner, but Whipple turned to Britt to avoid overworking Rodgers, who started at corner back.

“(Britt) is going to be a good player. He’s a freshman, but he’s the best we got,” Whipple said. “He’s just got to get better.”

Two plays later Hawaii tied the game on Brown’s pass to Marcus Armstrong-Brown, setting up the final sequence.