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2023 MAC Football Week 3 Game Recap: Eastern Michigan Eagles 19, UMass Minutemen 17

It was a sweaty affair at The Factory, but the boys in grey pulled through for a vital victory.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 16 UMass at Eastern Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With just 90 seconds remaining in the contest, Hamze El-Zayat had been held to just two catches for 12 yards.

A Dearborn, Michigan native who transferred from Fordham the prior year, El-Zayat has been trying to establish himself as a presence in the receiving game after sitting out all of 2022 due to transfer rules. On the prior play, Eastern Michigan quarterback Austin Smith fired a pass in El-Zayat’s direction, but it was broken up by UMass’ Dashaun Jerkins.

Up to this point in this Saturday afternoon contest, he was kept in check by a feisty UMass defense. But on second-and-10 from midfield, El-Zayat decided he would no longer be contained.

El-Zayat cut to the middle of the field, then turned to see Austin Smith rolling out of the pocket. In scramble mode, he shook off the defensive back, cut right to meet the ball at the UMass five-yard line, forced a missed tackle, and walked into the endzone to give the Eagles the 19-17 lead with 1:20 remaining in the game.

UMass (1-3) would get one last chance on offense to try and win the game, but Eastern Michigan (2-1) held strong on defense, allowing the El-Zayat touchdown to be the difference.

It was a wild ending to a game featuring many twists and turns along the way, as both teams showed moxie and want-to to add a win to the left side of the record column.

UMass struggled early in the road environment, losing a fumble on their second possession and tossing an interception in the direction of Quentavius Scandrett on their third possession. But Eastern didn’t fare much better, turning their first possession and the two turnovers into one Jesus Gomez field goal to go up 3-0 with 2:31 to go in the first quarter.

The action started heating up on the first play of the second quarter, as EMU defensive back Walker Bennett hopped in front a Carlos Davis pass to kill another Minuteman drive and give the ball to the offense at their own four-yard line.

UMass had appeared to pick up a sack on first-and-10 from the EMU 30-yard line for a loss of nine yards, but a personal foul call on Marcus Bradley moved the ball up 15 yards. EMU made them pay on the very next play, as Jaylon Jackson burst through the heart of the defense and raced off for a 55-yard score to out EMU up by a margin of 10-0.

The Minutemen would have an opportunity to make a big play of their own after recovering a Samson Evans fumble at the end of a 61-yard run tumbled out of the endzone for a touchback, but couldn’t make anything of the turnover, as the drive would end on an incomplete pass on fourth-and-10 from the EMU 33-yard line.

Cameron Carson would kick a late field goal from 48 yards out to get UMass on the board with 16 seconds remaining to get the score to 10-3 at the break.

After exchanging punts to start the second half, UMass would string together their best drive of the day, capping off a 10-pay, 66-yard drive with a 13-yard connection between Carlos Davis and Gino Campiotti to tie the contest at 10-all with 5:19 remaining in the third quarter.

EMU answered back with a field goal three possessions later to salvage points from a penalty-filled drive to put the Eagles back in the driver’s seat at 13-10 early in the fourth quarter. Another Bennett Walker interception in the endzone midway through the quarter gave EMU a major gift, but instead, the offense struggled to move, going three-and-out and having to depend on a 61-yard Mitchell Tomaczek punt to abate the UMass attack.

The Minutemen instead took advantage of a conservative EMU defense, gashing them for 18-yard pass to Shawn Harris Jr., a 19-yard rush by Kay’ron Adams and a 40-yard bomb to Gregory Desrosiers on back-to-back-to-back plays before ending the drive with an eight-yard Adams rushing score to pick up the 17-13 edge with 2:42 remaining.

El-Zayat’s heroics would give the Eagles the slim 19-13 lead— but crucially, Jesus Gomez missed the extra point attempt. This ensured a UMass touchdown could win the game on their next drive with a touchdown and a made extra point.

The Eagles defensive unit would deliver for the home crowd, as defensive lineman Mikah Coleman collected a 12-yard sack on Carlos Davis, defensive back Cameron Smith broke up the third-and-22 pass, and the fourth-and-14 pass attempt to Kay’ron Adams was eight yards short of the line to convert, ending the game.

It was an uneven performance for an Eagles crew who has historically gotten off to slow starts. Austin Smith finished 13-of-26 for 157 yards and the touchdown to El-Zayat. El-Zayat finished as the leading receiver for the Eagles, with 62 yards on three receptions, while Jaylon Jackson led the team with 12 carries and a touchdown, collecting 83 yards.

Linebacker Chase Kline starred for EMU, with 11 tackles, including three tackles-for-loss, two sacks and a forced fumble on the day. Fellow backer Joe Sparacio led the team in overall tackles (14.) Mikah Coleman disrupted from the line, with two of his four tackles being TFLs and getting the crucial late sack to essentially seal the game. Bennett Walker pulled down two of the team’s three interceptions, with Quentavious Scarlett getting the other.

UMass once again went with backup QB Carlos Davis, as starter Taisun Phommachanh is still out with an injury suffered vs. Auburn. The former Western Carolina Catamount finished 23-of-41 for 340 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.

Kay’ron Adams led all rushers with 26 carries for 129 yards and a touchdown on the ground, getting an additional 16 yards on two catches. Anthony Simpson led all receivers with four catches for 101 yards, pacing a UMass attack which had four receivers who hauled in at least three receptions and 50+ yards.

Marcus Bradley led UMass’ defense with six tackles, including 1.5 tackles-for-loss and a sack, while Billy Wooden was responsible for two TFLs, a sack and a pass break-up. Dashaun Jerkins led the defensive backfield with two pass break-ups.

Next week, Eastern Michigan travels for an intriguing matchup with FBS newcomer Jacksonville State in northern Alabama, while UMass limps home to host New Mexico.

Both games are scheduled for a Saturday afternoon kickoff.