FOXBOROUGH — The Minutemen, in search of their first win on Saturday, trailed Bowling Green by just one touchdown at halftime. Appropriately, the atmosphere in the UMass locker room reflected how close they were to what has eluded them all year.
“Jacked up,’’ is how coach Charley Molnar described his players. “Guys could taste it. I think our guys really believe in themselves, for the most part. It’s fragile. But they really trusted that our offense would get on track and the defense would continue doing what they were doing.’’
A 51-second third-quarter stretch, however, transformed a dogfight into a blowout. The Falcons scored two touchdowns in the third quarter, and added a fourth-quarter field goal to claim a 24-0 win before 10,846 at Gillette Stadium.
The Minutemen (0-7, 0-4 Mid-American) must travel to Vanderbilt this week to pursue their first victory.
“Offensively, we couldn’t put any wind in their sails,’’ Molnar said. “We couldn’t give them any life. I thought they kept fighting and fighting on D. Offensively, we just didn’t have it.’’
Bowling Green blew up the game in the third quarter. With 3:42 remaining, Matt Schilz floated a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Alex Bayer.
Two plays earlier, a penalty gave the Falcons the field position they needed. On second and 3 from the UMass 20-yard line, Schilz overthrew receiver Chris Gallon in the end zone. But UMass defensive back Darren Thellen was whistled for pass interference to give Bowling Green first and goal from the 3. After Bayer’s touchdown, Stephen Stein added the extra point to make it a 14-0 game.
The Minutemen were still in the hunt. Jordan Broadnax kicked off UMass’s next possession with a 2-yard run. But on the next play, Mike Wegzyn made his worst mistake of the day. On second and 8, the quarterback threw into double coverage. Dwayne Woods stepped in front of Wegzyn’s pass, and the linebacker dashed 48 yards for a backbreaking touchdown with 2:51 left in the third.
Wegzyn didn’t play another snap. Backup A.J. Doyle went 4 for 9 for 10 yards and two interceptions.
“It’s awful that we had that kind of performance when the defense was out there playing so well and fighting so hard,’’ Wegzyn said. “Personally, I feel like I let them down.’’
Wegzyn was never comfortable. The redshirt freshman completed only 9 of 25 passes for 23 yards. The Falcons picked off Wegzyn twice. Wegzyn’s longest completion was to Marken Michel in the second quarter for only 7 yards.
The Minutemen went three-and-out on their first four possessions.
“Today, even those things that we’ve managed to do well — hit some short passes, some pre-snap reads where guys are obviously going to be open to get them the ball — we just didn’t do today,’’ Molnar said.
UMass was missing go-to offensive pieces. Tight end Rob Blanchflower didn’t dress because of a leg injury. Wide receiver Alan Williams and offensive lineman Nick Speller were suspended for a second straight game because of academic reasons.
UMass especially struggled on third down. The Minutemen converted only one of their 16 third-down attempts.
“Horrific. Absolutely horrific,’’ Molnar said of his team’s third-down performance.
While the offense was grinding its gears, the defense kept Bowling Green (5-3, 3-1) from finding its rhythm. In the first quarter, cornerback D’Metrius Williams made back-to-back strong plays. After Schilz completed a short pass to Anthon Samuel, Williams quickly closed on the running back to hold the play to 2 yards. On the next snap, Williams broke up a Schilz pass intended for Shaun Joplin.
Closer to the line of scrimmage, freshman linebacker Kassan Messiah recorded a career-high 16 tackles.
“Two of the best players on the field,’’ Molnar said of Williams and Messiah. “They’re outstanding. They took the loss hard.’’