UMass closes second FBS season with 51-23 loss to Ohio University

Last modified: Friday, January 03, 2014
ATHENS, Ohio — The University of Massachusetts football team shook off the first potential knock-out punch.

But it couldn’t overcome the second.

Ohio University scored twice in 39 seconds in the second quarter, and Bobcat cornerback Travis Carrie returned two interceptions for touchdowns, as Ohio thumped the Minutemen 51-23 at Peden Stadium on Friday afternoon.

The loss was the sixth in a row to end the season for UMass (1-11, 1-7 Mid-American Conference), which has posted identical one-win seasons each of the past two seasons since moving up from FCS to FBS football. The Minutemen never led, and were held to less than 300 yards of offense for the seventh time this season.

“We just didn’t make enough plays when the opportunity presented itself,” UMass head coach Charley Molnar said. “That’s an awfully good football team and I feel like that would’ve been a great benchmark for us to beat that team, but it just didn’t happen today.”

Ohio (7-5, 4-4) ended a three-game slide and posted a winning record for the fifth consecutive season. The Bobcats will wait and see if they’ll receive a bowl invite.

Ohio running back Beau Blankenship rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown, while quarterback Tyler Tettleton hit on 18-of-27 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Tettleton added a season-high 37 rushing yards as the Bobcats finished with 215 yards rushing on just 29 attempts.

But it was the Ohio defense — and the Minutemen’s continued offensive struggles — that turned the tide.

The Bobcats raced out to a 14-0 lead less than five minutes into the game on Blankenship’s 50-yard scoring run and Tettleton’s 2-yard touchdown toss to Chase Cochran, but UMass responded.

Brendon Levengood’s 42-yard field goal put the Minutemen on the scoreboard late in the first quarter, and Shadrach Abrokwah pulled UMass to within 14-10 with a 3-yard touchdown with 12:32 left in the first half. The Minutemen then notched a defensive stop, and were driving into Ohio territory with a chance to take the lead.

But on third-and-8 from Ohio’s 38, disaster struck. Quarterback A.J. Doyle tried to find Tajae Sharpe on a short crossing route, but Carrie swooped in for the interception and returned it — untouched — 66 yards for the touchdown.

On the ensuing kickoff, UMass failed to cover the high, short kick and Ohio recovered. Two plays later, Bobcats running back Ryan Boykin scored on a 6-yard run to make it 28-10. Ohio added a Josiah Yazdani field goal late in the first half and took a 31-10 lead into halftime.

“The defensive back just made a good play on it and undercut the route and was able to get in,” Doyle said. “There were a few times we felt like we had momentum and were right in the game but we just made too many mistakes and I put that on me.”

After the second-quarter barrage, UMass never drew closer than 10 points the rest of the way. Sharpe made a terrific grab for a 38-yard touchdown from Doyle, and Levengood added a 37-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 31-20 midway through the third quarter. But Ohio scored 20 of the final 23 points to pull away.

Carrie pulled off his second interception return with 4:19 to go when he picked a deflected pass from Mike Wegzyn and scooted 30 yards to the end zone to make it 51-23.

Abrokwah, a walk-on freshman, grinded out 110 yards on the ground, but the Minutemen couldn’t balance the offense. Molnar used three different quarterbacks, but they combined for just six completions with three interceptions and the two defensive scores.

Doyle started and received the majority of the reps, but finished 4 of 12 for 109 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Wegzyn was just 2 of 6 for 28 yards with an interception, and Matt Quinn — who played the final two series — was 0 for 1. The trio was also sacked four times.

Molnar knows the quarterback play has to improve if UMass wants to see more wins. After 12 games this season, it’s still unclear if that quarterback is on the current roster.

“It’s obviously an area we need to improve quickly. This team is ready to turn the corner and we need a leader to help us make that turn faster,” Molnar said.

Defensive lineman Kevin Bryne recovered a fumble and had an interception as the Minutemen forced three turnovers of their own. But it was Carrie’s first interception-and-touchdown that took UMass out of this game in the first half.

“I’m sure (Doyle) would want to take that throw back, I certainly wish he could,” Molnar said. “I could really feel our guys thought they could get back into the football game. I don’t think all the wind left our sails, but it definitely hurt us.”

Although UMass played 43 sophomores or freshmen this season, Molnar said his departing seniors deserve credit for trying to guide the program into a new era.

“I just want to say how proud I am of how our seniors played; each and every one of them never gave up. I’m so disappointed for them that we couldn’t end our season with a win for them,” the coach said. “I told them how much I loved them and how much I appreciated them staying with us during these two very tough years.”