UMass football can’t capitalize on opportunities in loss to Boston College

  • Boston College tight end Trae Barry (3) scores ahead of Massachusetts defensive lineman Avien Peah (0) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) Michael Dwyer

  • Boston College running back Alec Sinkfield (26) carries the ball as Massachusetts defensive lineman Uchenna Ezewike (52) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) Michael Dwyer

  • Massachusetts wide receiver Eric Collins (80) hauls in a touchdown over Boston College defensive back Josh DeBerry (21) during the second half of the Minutemen’s 45-28 loss Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. AP

  • Massachusetts quarterback Brady Olson (12) looks to pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Boston College, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) Michael Dwyer

Staff Writer
Published: 9/11/2021 9:21:22 PM

AMHERST – Hope swelled in the stands at McGuirk Alumni Stadium for the first time in a long time.

A long bomb touchdown pass from a true freshman making his first career start. A muffed punt that led to a touchdown. Cutting the deficit to two scores with plenty of time left.

Unironically, UMass football fans could say “there’s a chance” to beat Boston College and claim the program’s first win over a Power 5 opponent Saturday.

That made the gut punches hit harder. Letting the Eagles pound their way to an easy touchdown on the ground. A fumble returned for a touchdown on a punt after a great defensive stand. A kickoff return for a score untouched.

The Minutemen showed they could contend with cross-state foil Boston College for four quarters but couldn’t seize enough opportunities in a 45-28 loss.

“I thought it was an unbelievably valiant effort by our guys,” UMass coach Walt Bell said. “As long as we do that around here, we’re going to have a chance.”

UMass was missing five starters before the game kicked off and lost two more as the game went on. Quarterback Tyler Lytle didn’t play after opening the season at the helm against Pittsburgh. That opened the door for true freshman Brady Olson, who was playing for Milford High School in the spring, to make his first career start.

Bell kept Olson’s leash tight in the first half, only attempting 11 passes compared to 12 runs. The Minutemen drove to the BC 2 with 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter. They ran the ball four times and ultimately lost five yards on fourth down.

“I wanted to prove a point, get big, go run the ball,” Bell said. “With a young group of O-linemen, that not might have been the wisest choice. That’s all me.”

He took the training wheels off Olson to great effect in the second half. The freshman completed 10-of-19 passes for 189 yards with three touchdowns and one interception after halftime. He finished 14-of-29 for 214 yards with the three scores and two picks. Olson also drew the Eagles offside four times.

“There are times I feel like I was trying to babysit the offensive line and the quarterback too much,” Bell said. “We went in at halftime and I said, ‘I'm done babysitting and we're going to go attack these guys.’ I thought our kids responded well.”

UMass’ defense forced a Zay Flowers – the Eagles’ best receiver who only had two catches for 68 yards – fumble two plays into the third quarter, then two plays later Olson uncorked an arcing throw down the left sidelines that dropped perfectly into Rico Arnold’s hands for his first career touchdown pass, a 56-yarder, just 54 seconds into the third quarter.

“Started off a little slow, but once I got a few drives under my belt, I started to sink in,” Olson said. “I’ve always knew in myself that I have the ability. I trust the guys around me that I could get the job done. We started to take more shots, and coach had confidence in me, so it developed from there.”

That throw made it 14-7, and the assembled crowd of more than 12,000 raised in full voice. The Eagles’ next drive tamped them back down. 

They ran the ball five times in six plays, covering 75 yards in 3:11. Travis Levy capped it with a 20-yard burst up the left side to restore the lead 21-7. BC gained 250 yards on the ground paced by Patrick Garwo’s 160.

UMass went three and out on its next possession, and the Eagles made it 28-7 one play later: a 44-yard catch and run by tight end Trae Barry from backup quarterback Dennis Grosel. He played most of the game after starter Phil Jurkovec left with a right wrist injury.

“Had some missed alignments. We’ve got a bunch of young players on defense, and when you lose some starters, things aren’t always right,” Bell said. “When we were in the right spot with a young group, I thought we played well. When we didn’t, we did not.”

BC’s defense held after the kickoff, and George Georgopolis lofted a punt high and swirling. Levy had to track backward to try and catch it, and dropped it falling over. UMass’ Javon Batten jumped on it at the one to give the Minutemen a spark. Three plays later, Kay’Ron Adams carried BC defensive Shitta Sillah into the end zone for a one-yard score. That made it 28-14 with 4:17 remaining in the third.

The Minutemen’s defense held BC to a punt on their next possession aided by a delay of game penalty, but Eric Collins fumbled the ball after a four-yard return. Jaiden Woodbey picked it up and ran 41 yards for a touchdown, extending the lead to three scores again.

Collins didn’t despair, and neither did UMass. On the next drive, the Minutemen faced fourth and 5 on the BC 15. Olson rifled a pass to the left corner of the end zone, and Collins fought around Josh DeBerry to snatch the ball out of the air for a touchdown.

“In a really crucial moment made a mistake then kept his chin up, he moved forward and he made an unbelievable play,” Bell said.

That push and pull defined the rest of the game. UMass held BC to a field goal to open the fourth quarter, then Olson threw his third touchdown of the day to Ellis Merriweather on a slant that cut the deficit to 38-28 with 9:04 left. It was the first time a UMass quarterback threw three touchdowns since Ross Comis had four in a three-overtime win against Liberty on Nov. 3, 2018.

“Brady’s a tough guy. I saw him gain his confidence through the passes. He learns from the mistakes,” Merriweather said. “(After the first interception) I saw it in his eyes that he knew. It wasn’t even that he messed up, he knew that was a critical play. He didn’t sulk, he didn’t sit down and pout. I looked him in his eyes and told him ‘it’s gonna be OK.’ He said, ‘I know.’”

BC’s Levy returned the next kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown and another three-score cushion.

Olson drove the Minutemen to the Eagles 17 then threw an interception to seal the game. Arnold was open with green turf ahead of him, but the ball was tipped.

“In my heart of hearts it’s going to be hard to go to sleep at night because I feel like we had opportunities to win that game,” Bell said. “That’s the expectation around here. There are a lot of people outside this building that think the expectation is to survive. It’s not.”


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