Fast start sparks UMass football to first win of the season

  • UMass running back Bilal Ally, left, powers through the Georgia Southern defense and Richard Byrd in the first quarter at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst Saturday. AP

  • UMass quarterback Andrew Ford launches a pass as Goergia Southern’s Richard Byrd, right, closes in the second quarter at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst Saturday. AP

  • Brennon Dingle, center, fumbles the ball as he dives across the goal line next to Goergia Southern’s Kindle Vidor at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst Saturday. AP

  • Roderick Jones, top right, and Chinedu Ogbonna, top left, celebrate along the UMass sideline at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst Saturday. AP

  • UMass running back Bilal Ally smiles as he runs past Goergia Southern’s Chris DeLaRosa for a touchdown in the first quarter, Saturday at McGuirk Stadium. UMass won 55-20. AP

  • UMass receiver Jessie Britt, right, catches a touchdown pass in front of Goergia Southern’s Darrell Baker in the first quarter at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst Saturday. AP

@Matt VautourDHG
Published: 10/21/2017 9:15:43 PM

AMHERST — All season, UMass has been looking for the recipe for its first win. As it turned out, gray uniforms, a quarterback rotation, forcing turnovers and having two weeks to prepare proved to be the elusive combination of ingredients the Minutemen had been searching for.

Playing a fellow winless program didn’t hurt either as UMass made the most of its opportunities and steamrolled Georgia Southern, 55-20, Saturday at McGuirk Stadium.

The win snapped a nine-game losing streak that included three last year.

All season, UMass coach Mark Whipple has lamented his team’s inability to get takeaways. The Minutemen got four of them Saturday, none bigger than the first one.

For a moment, and only a moment, UMass looked to be in trouble. Georgia Southern, which rarely passes, ran a play-action pass on the game’s first play from scrimmage. The Minuteman defense missed an assignment as quarterback Kado Brown found Mark Michaud wide open down the middle.

He had a clear path to the end zone and went 71 yards, but Isaiah Rodgers not only tracked him down, but stripped the ball when he arrived. Jarell Addo recovered the fumble at the UMass 3.

“I could feel the air coming out of the stadium as I was running,” said Addo, who was just a few paces behind Rodgers. “Isaiah made a play and I recovered. To get that recovery gave us life.”

Whipple was glad to see his players come together.

“For the first time our guys really fed off one and other. They played complementary football. We didn’t really want the first play to happen. (Rodgers) dragged him down and got the ball out. That sparked us,” Whipple said. “We came out and did a good job offensively.”

Ross Comis, who started at quarterback for UMass, said the play set the tone.

“Obviously it’s a big mental swing. You think they’re going to go in for a touchdown on the first play. We put a first drive together and got into the end zone,” Comis said. “I think it’s the type of drive that can change the game. The play Isaiah made was a 14-point swing.”

Comis directed an 11-play 97-yard drive and hit Adam Breneman from a yard out to make it 7-0 with 9:37 left in the first quarter. That play started a stretch of consecutive touchdown passes on three straight offensive plays for the Minutemen.

After an Eagle punt, Comis hit Andy Isabella for a 68-yard TD reception. The speedy receiver did most of the work, outrunning the converging defense to make it 14-0 with 7:24 left in the first.

Myles Campbell fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Jake Froehlich recovered for UMass at the GSU 26. Comis connected with Jesse Britt to make it 21-0 with 7:10 left.

After a Georgia Southern TD, Bilal Ally gave UMass its most points in a quarter as an FBS program with a 19-yard run out of a wildcat that made it 28-7 with 1:47 left in the first.

Andrew Ford took over at QB in the second quarter and led UMass to three more scores and nearly a fourth, but Brennon Dingle had the ball swatted out of his outstretched hand as he leapt over a defender and tried to reach the ball across the goal line. The ball bounced out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.

Marquis Young, who was suspended for the first quarter, had 87 yards rushing, including a TD in the second quarter as UMass outscored GSU 20-10 to lead 48-17 at intermission.

The Minutemen weren’t as sharp in the second half, but they didn’t have to be, making enough plays to keep the Eagles from ever really threatening.

UMass finished with a school-record 670 yards of total offense. Ally (16 carries, 116 yards, three touchdowns), and Young (13 for 101 yards, one TD) each cracked triple digits on the ground. Comis had his best day as a Minuteman completing 12 of 16 passes for 193 yards and three touchdowns. Ford was 9-for-12 for 157 and one TD.

The Minutemen held the run-heavy Eagles to just 136 yards on the ground.

“It’s hard for an option team to come back. We put them in some passing situations and took advantage of that,” Whipple said. “I just knew how close we were and how well they practiced throughout. They took advantage of mistakes and played well today.”

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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