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Matt Vautour: Charley Molnar under fire for 2-point conversion call

FOXBOROUGH

Charley Molnar didn’t make the fateful decision quickly.

The University of Massachusetts coach had been thinking about what the Minutemen would do if a late touchdown brought them within one point for most of the second half.

With kicker Blake Lucas mired in a season-long slump that included two missed field goals Saturday — one from 22 yards — Molnar didn’t like his chances in overtime. He feared the result would come down to field goals and Lucas has been far from automatic.

“I felt, ‘why put it on the foot of a guy who was unsuccessful on his last time on the field?’” he said. “I knew we could make the PAT, but we didn’t want it to come down to field goals in overtime.”

Lucas wasn’t the only one Molnar didn’t show confidence in. It wouldn’t be a “battle of field goals” if the offense, which had just made an impressive drive down the field, stayed effective in overtime.

Molnar said he put the game in the “hands of his best players.” But his best unit right now is the defense, a fact he emphasized early in the week. Forcing overtime gives it the chance to affect the game.

If the 2-point conversion had worked, Molnar would have looked gutsy and brilliant. Fans love gamblers. Patriots coach Bill Belichick likes to roll the dice as did former UMass coach Mark Whipple. Even though both of them took risks that failed at times, they both had built up enough collateral with their successes that their positive reputations remain intact. With a 2-19 career record, Molnar had no such equity amassed.

Molnar’s image has taken a beating this year after the team’s loss to Maine and the petition from alumni charging that he’s unfairly hard on his players. A win would have been a dose of rehabilitation for it.

But the conversion failed when quarterback A.J. Doyle overthrew his receiver. Because of Molnar’s lack of success, to fans the decision looks like betting mortgage money at the roulette wheel and hoping the ball lands on red. This loss adds to his image woes. Every other Bowl Subdivision team that beat UMass was either strong or from an elite conference. Even Maine looks like one of the better teams in the Championship Subdivision.

Western Michigan is another story.

WMU entered the game 0-7 and with its starting quarterback on the shelf. Beating them would hardly have been cause of a parade, but UMass won one game last year. Two wins is progress. Tiptoeing forward is still moving forward. Losing at home to a team the Minutemen were favored to beat won’t sit well.

The decision actually masks some other issues. UMass gave up more points than WMU has scored all year. The Minutemen’s rushing offense amassed 112 yards per game against a Bronco squad that allowed a MAC worse 259.8 yards per game. Opponents have averaged 5.5 yards per carry. UMass had 2.7. The last play was far from the only thing that wasn’t effective.

But if it had worked, everything else would have been swept under the rug and the homecoming crowd of 20,571 would have gone home happy.

There’s no guarantee Lucas would have made the extra point, and if he did, that UMass wouldn’t have lost in overtime. But if the Minutemen had gone the conventional route, Molnar would have avoided the spotlight. Instead, he’s under fire again.

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

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