Wildcats are the class of Clash
Minutemen fail to put up a fight
FOXBOROUGH — The punt off the foot of Kyle Auffray midway through the first quarter floated through air, falling to the turf, innocently enough, inside the UMass 20-yard line. And from moment the ball glanced off the leg of Shane Viveiros and into the waiting hands of Kyle Flemings, New Hampshire was on its way to seizing a firm grasp of the inaugural Colonial Clash, the first showcase for college football, and two longtime New England rivals, at Gillette Stadium.
Three plays later, senior quarterback R.J. Toman plunged into the end zone from a yard out, and his backup, Kevin Decker, connected with Chris Chandler for the conversion. Four minutes into the second quarter, UNH defensive end Brian McNally leveled a hit on John Griffin, the No. 2 rusher in the Colonial Athletic Association, the ball popped loose, and 12 plays later, Dontra Peters darted in from 3 yards and another score.
It was just the start of a feast for the 10th-ranked Wildcats, who pounced on seemingly every mistake by the 12th-ranked Minutemen the entire 60 minutes and rolled to a 39-13 victory before an entertained 32,848, the largest crowd to attend a regular-season game in the league.
“We pride ourselves on getting turnovers, and sometimes you get some luck, too,’’ said coach Sean McDonnell, after his Wildcats (5-3, 3-2) ripped off their third straight win.
“The offense took advantage, made some plays, and we got some points.’’
The early turnover, and score, gave the Wildcats a lift. The second-quarter fumble, and subsequent touchdown by Peters (23 carries, 98 yards, 2 TDs), capping a 12-play, 64-yard drive, put momentum totally on UNH’s side.
And with sophomore linebacker Matt Evans (game-high 13 tackles, 1 interception) anchoring a stout UNH defense along with safety Hugo Souza and linebacker Alan Buzbee, Griffin (7 carries, minus-1 yard) and backfield mate Jonathan Hernandez (12 rushes, 46 yards) were bottled up from start to finish.
“We definitely stepped up big, our defensive line played great, they got a couple of sacks, they put the pressure on,’’ said the 6-foot, 219-pound Evans, a Hanover native awarded the Bill Knight Trophy as MVP of the annual matchup.
The Minutemen answered when Kyle Havens (32 of 55, school-record 450 yards) found Anthony Nelson (11 catches, 190 yards) down the right sideline for 49 yards to the UNH 17. Wildcats tackle Steve Young, however, wrapped up Havens with a sack on third and 8. The Minutemen set up for a 38-yard field goal attempt by Caleb Violette, but were whistled for delay of game, pushing the ball back to the 26, and a 43-yard attempt. Havens and the offense returned to the field, and on fourth and 19 his connection with Nelson came up 4 yards short.
The Minutemen wasted another scoring chance in the final minute of the first half. Hernandez took a screen pass from Havens 31 yards down the right sideline to the UNH 17. But McNally sacked Havens on third and 9, and Violette’s 40-yard attempt in the final seconds hit the left upright and was no good.
“It’s a great venue. Unfortunately, we did not play up to the venue in any phase of the game,’’ said UMass coach Kevin Morris, who took the blame for a pair of delay of game penalties. The Minutemen (4-3, 2-2) were also twice whistled for 12 men on the field. “It was a one-night performance . . . and it didn’t represent who we are this year.’’
On their second series of the second half, Toman (14 of 26, 176 yards) and the Wildcats took complete command. Shortly after being backed up to his 1-yard line after a 56-yard punt by Violette, Toman zipped a third-and-5 pass up the left sideline to Kevon Mason for 29 yards. He hit Terrance Fox over the middle for 20 yards, Peters burst 12 yards up the middle, and Fox took a reverse 17 yards to the 1. Toman was in the end zone one play later for a 22-0 spread.
The 10-play, 99-yard drive was “huge,’’ said Toman, who later tossed an 11-yard scoring pass to Joey Orlando in the back right corner of the end zone. “For one, it keeps the defense off the field and lets them get rest. Plus, it gets [UMass] tired and it’s a demoralizer for them.’’
The game was a nightmare for UMass, which was making its first appearance at a stadium along Route 1 since a 27-12 win over Northeastern at Foxboro Stadium in 1991. The Minutemen finally scored with 10:28 remaining, when Rob Blanchflower pounced on a loose ball after Nelson fumbled a 6-yard completion from Havens into the end zone to make it 29-6.
Craig Larson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org