FOXBOROUGH — Someone neglected to inform the University of Massachusetts it was a serious underdog in its Mid-American Conference game against Ohio University Saturday at Gillette Stadium. But the Minutemen might not have been in the mood to listen, anyway, as they gave the Bobcats a scare in a 37-34 defeat.
“They really believed they would be in the game,” said UMass coach Charley Molnar. “So, it wasn’t like it was a surprise to them.
“But nevertheless, they had it right in their grasp and let it slip through, for whatever the reasons. Could just be inexperience. Could just be a mental error. It could just be a physical mismatch occurred and bad things happen. But regardless, there comes a point in the game where guys just have to dig deep. As I told the men, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And we just didn’t get it done enough times.”
The Minutemen (0-5, 0-2) achieved some modest milestones: They produced the season’s initial touchdown pass — scoring four times through the air — and took the lead for the first time.
Ohio (5-0, 1-0) had to earn this one. UMass scored on its opening possession, converted fourth-down plays on separate second-half drives, made impressive defensive stands, and blocked a field goal following a lost fumble.
The Minutemen fell behind, 37-27, with 6:13 left, but came up with an efficient drive to pull within 3 points, then nearly recovered from a deep hole on their final possession, finally stalling at the Ohio 45-yard line with 13 seconds remaining.
UMass had been outscored, 172-45, and its offense had produced three TDs in four games. But Mike Wegzyn (27 for 51, 373 yards) had a breakout game. Deion Walker, who had 11 receptions for 168 yards in three previous games, grabbed 11 passes for 162 yards and a TD. Williams, who had 12 receptions for 78 yards before this contest, totaled seven catches for 127 yards and three scores.
Williams also committed two penalties, one of which might have cost UMass on a key third-quarter possession after the Minutemen moved to within a yard of an 11-point lead.
“It was less than that, it was half-yard,” Molnar said. “There are 11 different ways we could get it in from there, and we go to third and 6. Wegzyn got pressured and the receiver didn’t get open, so he threw it away, which was probably smart, so we didn’t lose the chance to kick the field goal. But you work so hard to get down there and you get a field goal. It was very disappointing, believe me.”
With UMass holding a 24-20 advantage, Wegzyn found Walker for a 33-yard gain on third and 9. But after Michael Cox was stopped at the 1, Williams was penalized for illegal procedure. Then, Williams was well-covered as Wegzyn overthrew him, and Blake Lucas’s second field goal gave UMass a 27-20 lead.
Ohio displayed resourcefulness on its next possession. Facing third and 18, Tyler Tettleton produced two key completions — a 15-yarder to Donte Foster and a 4-yarder to Jordan Thompson. Then, a pass-interference penalty moved the ball to the UMass 11, Beau Blankenship (43 carries, 269 yards) scoring two plays later on a 5-yard run, tying the score, 27-27, with 13:48 remaining.
Weller put the Bobcats ahead with a 26-yard field goal with 9:35 left. UMass was then penalized for an illegal wedge formation on the kickoff, failing to sustain possession after gaining control at the 8.
Ohio then was in a position to clinch the result. And Blankenship appeared to do so on the fourth play of a 70-yard drive, going through the middle on a 40-yard run for a 37-27 lead with 6:13 remaining.
But UMass displayed resilience on its next possession. Wegzyn threw a 27-yard completion to Rob Blanchflower on fourth and 6, a personal foul for unnecessary roughness moving UMass to the 11. Williams then took a swing pass from Wegzyn and front-flipped into the end zone, cutting the deficit to 3 with 3:23 remaining.
Williams was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, but Ohio failed to capitalize as Ryan Clark muffed the kickoff and went down at the Bobcats’ 15 with 3:15 left. Five handoffs to Blankenship produced 11 yards, then Ohio punted.
Trey Dudley-Giles fumbled, and UMass was penalized for an illegal block on a punt return, but Jamal Wilson recovered and the Minutemen had a final chance from their 17.
UMass produced a 38-yard play on a Wegzyn-Williams completion, plus a roughing-the-passer penalty. The Minutemen surrendered possession four incompletions later, Ohio running out the final 13 seconds from its 45-yard line.
“They need validation, they need a win for all the hard work,” Molnar said of the Minutemen. “I’m greatly disappointed. For as tough as we played, as hard as we played, we didn’t always play smart. That’s my job as a head coach, to get our guys to play smarter and continue to get them to play hard and improve.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.