By Kerri Vautour/Special to the BDN
AMHERST, Mass. — The University of Massachusetts caused difficulty for Maine Saturday, no matter who was on the field, as the Minutemen offense, defense, and special teams all scored against the Black Bears.
Starting with a 97-yard return for a score on the opening kickoff by Ryan Carter and ending with two interception returns by linebacker Tyler Holmes, UMass defeated Maine 39-24 at McGuirk Stadium.
“We put ourselves in a huge hole right away with the opening kickoff, and then two defensive scores. That’s a real tough hole to climb out of,” said Maine coach Jack Cosgrove, whose team fell to 3-6 (2-4 CAA). “I thought we kept battling, we kept playing. We had our chances. But we turned the ball over four times during the course of the game and that’s not going to get it done against a good team in this league.”
UMass (6-3, 4-2 CAA) extended its lead with a drive that began midway through the first. UMass had five first downs in the drive, converting three fourth downs. By the time quarterback Kyle Havens connected with Jonathan Hernandez for a 7-yard touchdown, the drive had lasted almost nine minutes and put the Minutemen on top, 12-0.
“They had themselves in good situations — fourth-and-short, not fourth-and-long. They’re an effective run-and-pass team,” Cosgrove said. “It’s disheartening” to see them convert so many first downs.
UMass receiver Rob Blanchflower (61 yards receiving) agreed.
“It’s huge getting a fourth-down conversion. When you have a 10-minute drive, every third- or fourth-down conversion takes the wind out of (opponents),” he said. “It’s pretty demoralizing.”
The bright spot for Maine was running back Pushaun Brown, whose playing time has grown thanks to an injured Jared Turcotte. Brown had a career-high 141 yards rushing and scored a touchdown against the Minutemen
“I was making my reads, reacting to what I saw, trying to get vertical as fast as possible. The line was doing their job, blocking up front real good. I just tried to get upfield as fast as I could,” Brown said.
It was Brown who put Maine on the scoreboard later in the second quarter, on a 40-yard run up the middle.
But UMass’ numerous offensive threats were on display. Havens threw for 213 yards and three touchdowns on 22-of-28 passing, and used five different receivers to do so, each finishing with at least three receptions. Hernandez (86 yards) and John Griffin (81), who have been splitting running back duties this season, combined for 167 yards on the ground.
Indeed, the Minutemen responded to Brown’s score with two more touchdowns, on a 19-yard completion from Havens to Dan Sheehan and a pick by Holmes of Black Bears quarterback Warren Smith that the linebacker returned 18 yards.
Each team would score before the half: Maine on a 34-yard field goal by Brian Harvey and UMass on a 4-yard pass from Havens to Julian Talley, giving the Minutemen a 32-10 advantage at intermission.
“UMass really played an outstanding offensive game in the first half. I kept saying that they can’t keep executing at this high level. They’re going to miss a throw or something,” Cosgrove said.
“We didn’t make any halftime adjustments. We just told ourselves that what we were doing wasn’t acceptable,” said linebacker Donte Dennis, who had a game-high 17 tackles. “But it was too late, I guess.”
Indeed, Maine seemed stronger in the second half, with Smith (270 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions on 29-of-41 passing) connecting with Maurice McDonald on a 12-yard completion with 10:21 left in the third quarter.
Both teams would score once more before the game ended. Holmes’ second interception return came from midfield with 9:40 left in the game, putting UMass on top 39-16.
Maine ended the scoring with a 1-yard completion from Smith to Tyrell Jones.
In addition to Brown and Smith, Maine got a solid offensive performance from Derek Session (70 yards receiving).
Maine travels to Towson Saturday at 2 p.m.
Maine (3-6) 0 10 6 8 — 24
Massachusetts (6-3) 6 26 0 7 — 39
MA — R.Carter 97 kickoff return (kick failed)
MA — Hernandez 7 pass from Havens (pass failed)
ME — Brown 40 run (Harvey kick)
MA — Sheeran 19 pass from Havens (Violette kick)
MA — Holmes 18 interception return (kick blocked)
ME — FG Harvey 34
MA — Talley 4 pass from Havens (Violette kick)
ME — McDonald 12 pass from Smith (pass failed)
MA — Holmes 50 interception return (Violette kick)
ME — Ty.Jones 1 pass from Smith (Ty. Jones pass from Smith)