Blocked point-after kick, late field goal by Temple doom UMass

Last modified: Saturday, October 10, 2015
FOXBOROUGH — Moments after celebrating a touchdown that put the UMass football team in position to clinch its biggest win since upgrading to the Bowl Subdivision, the Minutemen trudged off the field Saturday with perhaps their toughest loss in the same stretch.

After a season of heartbreaking finishes a year ago, the Minutemen found a new bizarre way to lose a game it appeared poised to win.

Austin Jones of Temple kicked a 32-yard field goal with 12 seconds left to cap the Owls’ 25-23 win at Gillette Stadium.

“It’s just football. You see it at all levels,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said. “I’m a lot more experienced with all those games in the NFL to think that crazy things can happen.”

Temple (3-0) led 20-17 with 3:27 left in the fourth quarter when the Minutemen took over at their own 30-yard line. After a 3-yard run by Lorenzo Woodley, quarterback Blake Frohnapfel tried to beat double coverage on a pass to Rodney Mills. But the ball was underthrown and intercepted by Stephaun Marshall at the UMass 49.

The Minutemen defense, which had slowed and frustrated Temple the whole game, came through again. John Robinson-Woodgett stripped running back Jahad Thomas and Kelton Brackett dove on the bouncing ball giving UMass new life with 2:45 left at their own 41.

With the crowd of 10,141 and the Minuteman sideline cheering hopefully, Frohnapfel directed an eight-play, 59-yard drive that he capped with a little flip pass to Jamal Wilson to avoid pressure. The tailback beat converging tacklers to the goal line for the 16-yard score with 1:25 left that made it 23-20.

If the extra point kick was successful, Temple would have needed a touchdown to avoid the upset loss. If it simply missed and landed out of bounds, an Owl field goal would have merely tied the game.

But Nate D. Smith blocked the kick by Blake Lucas and Marshall scooped the ball, and lateraled it to Will Hayes who ran it all the way back to the end zone for a rare defensive two-point conversion to get Temple within 23-22. Making matters worse for UMass, Matt Sparks was called for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play, forcing a kickoff from the 20.

After the return gave the Owls the ball on their 35, P.J. Walker marched Temple to the Minuteman 27 where it was third and six with 12 seconds left. The Owls called their last timeout to decide between a 44-yard field goal attempt or another play. They chose the play and Walker hit John Christopher on the left sideline at the UMass 15. He stepped out of bounds to stop the clock.

Jones’ kick was true with 12 seconds left. After fielding the bouncing kickoff, the Minutemen could not pull off a miracle from its own 34 and left the field dejectedly.

“With the blocked extra point returned for two, you never really see that,” Frohnapfel said. “To have it play out that way, it’s obviously not what you’re expecting. We scored that touchdown and everyone’s all excited, but you still have to finish every single play. We learned our lesson the hard way, but I think there’s a growing experience from it.”

The Minutemen (0-2) will play at Notre Dame at 3 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s tough. But we have strong players in that locker room who are going to overcome this and show up in practice tomorrow and get ready for Notre Dame,” said senior linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox, who had 11 tackles and a sack.

The result blunted any celebration for Tajae Sharpe becoming the UMass career leader in catches. His 11 for 156 yards gave him 188 career receptions, passing Adrian Zullo.

Rodney Mills caught five passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Frohnapfel was 29-of-55 for 393 yards. He threw three touchdowns and one interception.

UMass held Thomas, who averaged 164 yards per game on the ground, to 66 yards.

Temple led 14-0, but the Minutemen closed the first half on a 17-3 run that made it 17-17 at halftime.

Whipple, who was angry after last week’s 48-14 season-opening loss to Colorado, emphasized the positive.

“I’m proud of the way guys responded from last week,” he said. “They competed and found a way to get there at the end. They probably celebrated a little bit too early. That can happen. Temple made the plays at the end of the game you have to make. That’s why we came out of the short end.

“… They have a good team, Whipple said. “I think we have a good team. I wouldn’t have said that last week. We’ll see how we respond.”

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