Saturday, August 30, 2008

#5 Massachusetts Overcomes UAlbany Football, 28-16, in Season Opener

Senior quarterback Liam Coen threw three touchdown passes and Tony Nelson rushed 171 yards and one score, as Massachusetts overcame an early deficit to defeat UAlbany, 28-16, on Saturday, Aug. 30 before15,112 fans at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. The Minutemen, who are ranked fifth nationally in both polls, extended their home winning streak to 15 straight.

The Great Danes surprised the defending Colonial Athletic Association champions in the first quarter by scoring on their first possession. UAlbany converted two third-down plays to reach midfield. David McCarty then hauled in quarterback Vinny Esposito’s screen pass in the left flat and then cut back to his right on a 52-yard touchdown. Wide receiver Tim Bush threw the key block on UMass’ 10-yard line to get the junior tailback into the end zone.

UAlbany (0-1) moved out to a 9-0 lead when Sean Smalls mishandled a punt return and the football was kicked beyond the end line by a UMass player for a safety. Following the free kick, the Great Danes drove into scoring territory, but Herb Glass missed a 37-yard field goal with 3:42 left in the opening period.

The Minutemen rebounded in the second period with a pair of touchdowns. Coen, a Walter Payton Award candidate, finished off a 14-play march when he flipped a 2-yard scoring pass to tight end Ian Jorgensen. Tony Nelson did the bulk of the work during the offensive sequence. UMass’ defense set up the go-ahead touchdown when defensive back Jeromy Miles picked off Esposito’s tipped pass. Coen, using play-action in a fourth-and-goal situation, would connect with Nelson on another 2-yard TD for a 14-9 advantage.

UAlbany had an opportunity to regain the lead with a 13-play drive just before halftime. But an illegal procedure call on first down at the UMass’ one-yard line threw the offense off schedule. McCarty was stopped short of the goal line on a fourth-down carry.

“It was mind-boggling at the start,” said McCarty, whose team was playing a program ranked in the top 10 for the fourth time in its Division I FCS history. “We just wanted to stay focused. Everyone knew on the sideline what the talk was coming into the game.”

UMass (1-0) pushed out to a 21-9 lead on the first series of the second half. Nelson, a junior tailback, darted through the middle, breaking tackles, on a 64-yard jaunt to paydirt, the longest by a UM runner in nearly six years. The Great Danes closed the gap with an eight-play drive in the closing stages of the third quarter. McCarty, who toppled the 100-yard mark for the seven game in a row, bounced around right end on a 24-yard touchdown. He finished with 125 yards on 24 carries.

The Minutemen, who reached the NCAA quarterfinals last year and played for the national title in 2006, slammed the door on their next offensive set. Coen, who completed 10 of 20 attempts for 92 yards, hit Julian Talley with a 20-yard pass to the UAlbany 32. The CAA Preseason Player of the Year, later beat a blitzing linebacker with a 17-yard scoring pass to Jeremy Horne for a 28-16 cushion.

“I thought this was extremely positive,” said UAlbany coach Bob Ford, whose team opens with four consecutive CAA opponents. “I was extremely proud of their effort. You improve the most between the first and second week. It will be an interesting film session. We did too many things that hurt ourselves.”

Esposito connected on 16 of 30 passes for 172 yards, but was intercepted twice. The Great Danes, who are favored to win the Northeast Conference title, accounted for 353 total yards, including 181 net on the ground.

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