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UMass football fails to finish upset of Ohio at Gillette Stadium

University of Massachusetts running back Alan Williams, bottom center ,  is tackled by Ohio defenders Nic Barber, top left, Neal Huynh, bottom left,  and Keith Moore Saturday in Foxborough. Ohio won 37-34. (AP Photo)

University of Massachusetts running back Alan Williams, bottom center , is tackled by Ohio defenders Nic Barber, top left, Neal Huynh, bottom left, and Keith Moore Saturday in Foxborough. Ohio won 37-34. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

A three-point loss to an Ohio team favored to win the Mid-American Conference which already had a victory over Penn State seemed like something worth cheering.

But the UMass players walked off the field red-eyed, angry and frustrated by the 37-34 loss before 8,321 fans. The Minutemen had led most of the game and believed they were going to finish their unlikely upset on their last drive of the game.

“Week by week, we’ve been showing signs of improvement, but we’ve got to put it all together. A loss is never acceptable,” UMass senior Darren Thellen said. “We hate losing. We don’t come, ‘Oh, we got close.’ We want to win. So we’ve got to put everything together and come out with a win next week.”

Leading 24-20, the Minutemen had a chance to pull ahead by 11 points late in the third quarter. After Antoine Tharpe blocked a field goal attempt by the Bobcats, UMass rode momentum deep into Ohio territory. Back-to-back 4-yard runs by Mike Cox (22 carries, 80 yards) gave the Minutemen third-and goal on the Ohio 1-yard line.

“It was less than one,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said. “It was half a yard.”

But before quarterback Mike Wegzyn could snap the ball, wide receiver Alan Williams was flagged for a false start, moving the Minutemen back to the 6. After Wegzyn’s third-down pass was off the mark, Molnar debated going for the touchdown on fourth down. But he elected to let Blake Lucas kick a 23-yard field goal that put UMass ahead 27-20 with 3 minutes, 15 seconds left in the third.

“I kept looking at the play sheet and looking at the clock and going through it in my mind, but I just knew the sound bet was to kick the field goal from 6½ yards out,” Molnar said.

Dodging the touchdown seemed to give life to the Bobcats. Ohio tied the game when Beau Blankenship (43 carries, 269 yards, two touchdowns) plowed in from 5 yards out with 13:48 left in the game.

The Bobcats pulled ahead on a 26-yard field goal by Matt Weller that gave them a 30-27 with 9:35 left. They extended their edge to 37-27 on a 40-yard touchdown run by Blankenship.

The Minutemen cut the deficit to 37-34 with an 11-yard TD pass from Wegzyn to Williams, although they had to endure some anxious moments before it became official. Williams was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct when he flipped unnecessarily crossing into the end zone. The officials reviewed the play because had the action happened outside the end zone, the penalty would have negated the touchdown. But the officials ruled it happened in the end zone and the 15-yard penalty was imposed on the ensuing kickoff with 3:23 remaining.

Ohio (5-0, 1-0 Mid-American Conference) got one first down before UMass forced a punt from the 30 to give the Minutemen the ball on their own 17 with 50 seconds left.

UMass moved to the Ohio 45 on a 23-yard pass to Williams and a roughing-the-passer penalty. But Wegzyn’s passes on first and second downs fell incomplete and his third-down throw was batted down with 18 seconds left. Under pressure on fourth down, Wegzyn threw just high off the fingertips of Deion Walker which allowed the Bobcats to escape with a 37-34 win.

“They’re a really good team,” Blankenship said. “They played us really tough and I am thankful we got the win. They were coached well, disciplined and athletic, so I am sure they are going to have some success.”

Ohio coach Frank Solich stopped Molnar for a moment during their postgame handshake.

Molnar related that Solich “said, ‘Your team is really tough.’ And that, to me, is about as good of a compliment right now because we’re really trying to develop a team of toughness.

“To be recognized by the last two coaches, the teams that we’ve played, to say that makes me feel good because they didn’t have to say it,” Molnar added. “I haven’t been a head coach long enough to know if every coach that beats you tells you that your team plays tough but the last two weeks I have heard it.”

The Minutemen (0-5, 0-2 MAC) will try to find success at 2 p.m. next Saturday when they travel to play Western Michigan in Kalamazoo.

Molnar said his team needs to have its effort rewarded.

“At the end of the day, nobody feels good about losing,” he said. “We come to play and to win every time we step on the field.

“The only thing is, I wish that the hard work and the toughness that our guys displayed and the resiliency they show each and every day and even throughout the game, they need validation,” Molnar added. “They need a win for all their efforts and hard work. It didn’t come this afternoon and I’m greatly, greatly disappointed. As tough as we played, and as hard as we played, we didn’t always play smart. That’s my job as a head coach is to get our guys to play smart and to play smarter and continue to get them to play hard and improve.”

The loss came despite the best performance of the season by the UMass offense who scored more points than any other team this season against the undefeated Bobcats. UMass had more yards (511-503), more passing yards (373-229) and first downs (28-24) than Ohio which entered the game leading the MAC in yards gained and points scored, and yards and points allowed.

Wegzyn had career highs in everything, completing 27 of 51 passes for 373 yards and four touchdowns.

Williams caught seven passes for 127 yards and three TDs, while Walker had 11 catches for 162 yards and one score.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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