In front of a sparse crowd of 15,624 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., the 2013 season went from bad to worse for the Massachusetts Minutemen on Saturday. After being shutout last week at Wisconsin, UMass rolled up just 265 yards of offense and fell behind 24-7 before scoring in the fourth quarter to earn a final defeat of 24-14 to the Maine Black Bears.
The loss was not just disturbing from an offensive point of view. Maine posted 514 yards of offense and averaged seven yards per play, with the total offense being nearly equally distributed between the ground and the air. In fact, only three first half turnovers in Mnutemen territory, two of which were in the red zone, prevented this game from being a real blowout.
The game certainly did not start poorly for UMass. Trey Dudley-Giles returned the opening kickoff 41 yards and the Minutemen began the game at their own 46-yad line. Mike Wegzyn hit Stacey Bedell with a 42-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage to put UMass at the Maine 7 and then, two plays later, completed a seven-yard touchdown to Bernard Davis. UMass led 7-0 just 1:28 into the game.
On the ensuing drive, it appeared that Maine would answer quickly. Marcus Wasilewski threw three straight completions that moved Maine 76 yards, including a 48-yard throw to Justin Perillo. However, from the UMass 5, Wasilewski threw an interception to Jovan Santos-Knox in the end zone to end the drive. After the interception, the teams each punted, but when trying to return Maine's kick, Dudley-Giles fumbled. Maine recovered the ball at the UMass 40. From there, Maine drove to the nine-yard line, but the Minutemen held to force a Sean Decloux 26-yard field goal. UMass held a 7-3 lead with 3:49 left in the first quarter.
The errors continued on the next drive. On the second play of the drive, Wegzyn attempted a pass at his own 40 that was intercepted by Maine's Khari Al-Mateen. He returned it to the UMass 14, but Bedell forced him to fumble the ball. Offensive lineman Anthony Dima made a heads-up recovery, and the Minutemen avoided a scoring threat.
Wegzyn then took UMass on a drive into Maine territory, using passes of 11- and 27-yards to Tajae Sharpe to help. Unfortunately, the drive bogged down and Wegzyn's incompletion on 4th-and-4 from the Maine 29 gave the ball back to the Black Bears on downs. Massachusetts forced a three-and-out, but then had a three-and-out of their own and had to punt from their own 15. Colter Johnson unleashed a terrible 20-yard punt that was downed at the UMass 35, and Maine's Rickey Stevens ran the ball for a 35-yard touchdown on the next play. Maine had the lead for good, 10-7, with 10:00 left in the first half.
For the remainder of the half, the Minutemen were not able to run another play in Maine territory. On the other hand, Maine traveled onto the UMass side of the field twice but failed to score both times. On the first, Stevens fumbled at the 43, and Dudley-Giles recovered for UMass. Maine marched to the UMass 29 in just two plays on the second drive, but 20 yards of penalties ultimately forced a punt. Maine went to halftime with a 10-7 lead.
After both teams punted to begin the second half, Maine finally stopped making mistakes and put the game away. Their second drive of the half began at their own 32, and they traveled the 62 yards to a touchdown in 12 plays with a drive that lasted over five minutes. Wasilewski completed four passes for 46 yards, while Zedric Joseph rushed five times for 29 yards and capped the march with a one-yard touchdown run. Maine then forced UMass into a three-and-out and, after the Minutemen punt, took over again at their own 35.
This time, it took just six plays and 2:19 to get into the end zone. Wasilewski completed an eight-yard pass to John Ebelling to convert a 3rd-and-5 at the beginning of the drive. Three plays later, he kept the ball himself and ran for a 39-yard touchdown and a 24-7 lead with just 1:18 remaining in the third quarter.
After an exchange of punts, UMass would start a drive early in the fourth quarter at the Maine 45. It would be their first -- and only -- time on Maine's side of the field after turning the ball over on downs with 13:37 left in the second quarter. A.J. Doyle had replaced Wegzyn at quarterback at the beginning of the second half, and he completed four of six passes to lead UMass to a touchdown. His eight-yard touchdown pass to Sharpe provided the game's final 24-14 score. After the teams traded punts again, Maine took over at their own 19-yard line with 7:25 left in the game. UMass would not touch the ball again. Thirteen plays later, Wasilewski kneeled at the UMass 6 to end the contest.
For UMass on offense, Wegzyn was 13-for-25 passing with 139 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Doyle was 7-for-17 in the second half and had 62 yards to go along with his touchdown. Bedell led UMass rushers with 16 carries and 58 yards. Sharpe was the star at receiver. He caught 11 balls for 85 yards and a touchdown. Dudley-Giles also had 122 all-purpose yards of his own between punt and kickoff returns. On special teams, Johnson had a solid day punting despite the 20-yard clunker. He averaged 39.7 yards on nine kicks, including three inside the Maine 20. Defensively, the team was led by Ed Saint-Vill, who had 14 tackles, and Joe Colton, who had 11.
Maine's Wasilewski had a solid day at quarterback. He passed for 267 yards and completed 20 of 28 passes. He hit seven different targets, including Johnson, who posted five catches for 38 yards. Zedric Joseph had four catches and 60 yards, while Perillo also had 82 yards receiving. Maine's 247 rushing yards were split among four players. Wasilewski had 76 yards and a touchdown on ten carries. Stevens (13 carries) and Joseph (12 carries) each had 65 yards and a touchdown. Nigel Jones contributed 45 yards on eight rushes. Maine was led defensively by Jamal Clay, who had seven tackles. Of those, six were solo tackles and two created negative plays for UMass.
Massachusetts gets no break over the next two weeks. Next Saturday, the Minutemen must play in Manhattan, Kan. against Bill Snyder's Kansas State Wildcats at 7:00pm ET. The following week, UMass comes back to Foxboro for a 12:00pm ET start against Vanderbilt.
Oh...after that, UMass begins their conference slate at Bowling Green.
The long season continues...