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UMass 27, W&M 23

UMass rallies for upset

Minutemen stop William & Mary

UMass tailback Jonathan Hernandez loses his helmet after this second-half tackle by William & Mary’s B.W. Webb, but the Minuteman finished with 25 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown. UMass tailback Jonathan Hernandez loses his helmet after this second-half tackle by William & Mary’s B.W. Webb, but the Minuteman finished with 25 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown. (Matthew Cavanaugh/Associated Press)
By Marty Dobrow
Globe Correspondent / September 5, 2010

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AMHERST — In the end, the Minutemen could smile. They could laugh. They could breathe a sigh of relief with greater wind gusts than anything Hurricane Earl could muster.

Despite what University of Massachusetts coach Kevin Morris termed “a bunch of potential disasters’’ and what quarterback Kyle Havens called “a bonehead play,’’ the Minutemen were reveling in their own resolve. Yesterday’s 27-23 season-opening stunner against fourth-ranked William & Mary made all the bad stuff go away.

The victory continued a bizarre string of wins against teams ranked No. 4 in the nation at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. Last year, when UMass went only 5-6, the Minutemen knocked off No. 4 New Hampshire. Since 2002, the Minutemen have topped the No. 4 squad five times.

This one was especially sweet. UMass had to overcome a 9-point fourth-quarter deficit as well as the near-disasters, including five fumbles (but only one lost), several excruciating penalties (including a running-into-the-kicker midway through the fourth quarter while trailing by 2), and the unforgettable play by Havens.

That one came late in the third quarter with UMass charging downfield, trailing by the halftime score of 16-14. After John Griffin rushed for 10 yards, the Minutemen had a fourth and 2 from the Tribe 7-yard line.

Surprisingly, Morris eschewed the go-ahead field goal. Without a timeout, the Minutemen ran a play with Havens rolling out and scrambling, needing to get to the William & Mary 5. He pushed ahead to the 4, and — by his own admission — had a clear path to the end zone. Even if he had fallen right there, UMass would have a first and goal at the 4. Instead, he saw wide receiver Dan Sheeran waving to him from the end zone.

Inexplicably, Havens threw the ball. Not only was the pass incomplete, it resulted in a penalty for an illegal forward pass.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,’’ said Havens with a smile.

Immediately, the Tribe bolted upfield and scored early in the fourth quarter on a 34-yard pass from Mike Callahan (21 of 35 for 221 yards with one touchdown and one interception) to Cameron Dohse. The Minutemen were behind, 23-14, and seemingly on their way to an anguished loss.

Instead, they bounced off the canvas. Jonathan Hernandez (25 carries for 132 yards) capped a long drive with a 2-yard run to make it 23-21 at 9:40.

A three-and-out for the Tribe was gallingly interrupted by the running-into-the-kicker penalty from James Carven.

“I almost lost the game,’’ said Carven, a red-shirt senior getting his first significant time.

Carven came up with a couple of huge defensive plays to make up for the error, and UMass got the ball again with 5:21 left at its 17.

Havens (15 of 24 for 223 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions) led UMass downfield quickly, thanks in large measure to a 64-yard catch and run by Hernandez. Northeastern transfer John Griffin (21 carries for 84 yards) put the Minutemen in front with his second touchdown, a 5-yard-run at 3:23.

Tyler Holmes’s interception on the ensuing possession sealed the upset.

Morris was thrilled with his tailback tandem of Hernandez and Griffin.

“They’re both premier backs in the league,’’ Morris said. “It’s not like they are average Joes. These are high-level Johns.’’