UMass football gets first Bowl Subdivision win at Akron
Massachusetts' Jovan Santos-Knox, right, celebrates an interception to seal a win over Akron in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game, on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, in Akron, Ohio. (AP Photo/Akron Beacon Journal, Phil Masturzo) MANDATORY CREDIT
University of Massachusetts senior Hafis Williams, left, holds a Powerade container after soaking first-year coach Charley Molnar, in black, to celebrate their first win as a Football Bowl Subdivision team, 22-14 over Akron on Saturday.
Akron running back Jawon Chisholm, left, stiff-arms Khary Bailey-Smith of the University of Massachusetts on Saturday in Akron, Ohio. UMass won 22-14. (AP Photo)
Massachusetts linebacker Leo Krizanovic signals the win over Akron during an NCAA college football game, on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, in Akron, Ohio. (AP Photo/Akron Beacon Journal, Phil Masturzo) MANDATORY CREDIT
Akron running back Jawon Chisholm, right, rushes ahead of Randall Jette of the University of Massachusetts on Saturday in Akron, Ohio. UMass won 22-14. (AP Photo)
University of Massachusetts tight end Rob Blanchflower fumbles the ball against Akron on Saturday in Akron, Ohio. UMass won 22-14. (AP Photo)
Avis Commack, left, of Akron takes down University of Massachusetts receiver Deion Walker on Saturday in Akron, Ohio. UMass won 22-14. (AP Photo)
AKRON, Ohio — Clinging to an eight-point lead, everyone on the University of Massachusetts sideline held their breath when Akron quarterback Dalton Williams dropped back to pass on fourth-and-two from his own 49-yard line with 1 minute, 30 seconds left in Saturday’s.
Minuteman Ryan Delaire slipped his blocker and lunged at the quarterback, knocking the ball free. As Kevin Byrne corralled the ball, the UMass sideline erupted in celebration. Coaches, managers, teammates and trainers all waited to hug Delaire and then each other as the final seconds ticked off for victory No. 1 in the Football Bowl Subdivision era, 22-14 win over the Zips at InfoCision Stadium.
Defensive lineman Hafis Williams, a fifth-year senior who followed coach Charley Molnar from Notre Dame, baptized the first-time head coach’s inaugural victory with a shower of blue Powerade.
“It was a really exciting moment, not just for me, but the whole football team,” Molnar said. “It’s been a long time. … I think I got hugged by everybody on the team. I don’t think I’ve ever been kissed by so many men before.”
Senior safety Darren Thellen was still beaming as he walked to the bus.
“The emotion in the locker room was crazy,” Thellen said. “To finally get the first win after all the hard work we put in through winter workouts, spring ball, camp and all these long practices, finally paid off. Everything came together. We’re part of history. Words can’t explain how happy we are.”
There were plenty of heroes in win No. 1. The defense picked off four passes and turned each of them into points. The special teams blocked a punt and punter Colter Johnson landed four punts inside the Akron 10-yard line giving the Zips a long field to navigate through much of the game. Though the offense was not at its sharpest, it did enough to ensure the victory.
After leading 15-0 at halftime, the Minutemen (1-9, 1-5 Mid-American Conference) drove deep into Akron territory before a fumbled exchange between quarterback Mike Wegzyn and Jordan Broadnax negated a chance for UMass to deliver the knockout blow.
The Zips (1-10, 0-7 MAC) responded with their best drive of the day going 61 yards on 10 plays capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Jawon Chisholm (23 carries, 103 yards) that cut the Minutemen’s lead to 15-7 with 8:49 left in the third.
Neither team scored again until the fourth. Joe Colton, a true freshman walk-on who blocked the punt in the first quarter, intercepted Williams at the Akron 17-yard line and nearly scored before being stopped at the 1 with 4:49 left. Two plays later Wegzyn (23-for-39, 266 yards, one TD, one interception) plowed in for a touchdown that put UMass ahead 22-7 with 3:59 left.
Showing efficiency that had been missing the rest of the game, the Zips moved 76 yards in nine plays to cut their deficit to 22-14 with 2:27 left.
Akron kicked the ball away rather than try an onside kick. Not risking a turnover, Molnar had the Minutemen keep the ball on the ground, trusting that his defense would hold up if the offense could not get a first down. That decision proved wise when Delaire’s sack finished off the win.
UMass returns home for its final two games at Gillette Stadium beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday against Buffalo.
“We want to finish off this year better than we started, going into next year,” Delaire said.
The Minutemen turned a key special teams play and three Akron turnovers into a 15-point halftime lead. Colton’s punt block led to Blake Lucas’ field goal that put UMass ahead 3-0 with 2:21 left in the first quarter. UMass then added two more field goals and a touchdown after three interceptions in the second quarter.
“Our team knows what if feels like to win now,” Molnar said. “I can’t imagine them wanting to go back to that other feeling. I’m looking for preparation to continue at a high level and let’s go get another one.
“It felt as good as I thought it would,” he added. “I’ll always remember this win because it was my first win, but I’m hoping there are a lot of other mileposts along the way.”
Matt Vautour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.