The Road To Chattanooga: Buffalo

Staff Writer
Published: 9/27/2018 1:15:32 PM

After a bye last week, UMass continued its quest for a national title on Sept. 26, 1998 when it hosted Buffalo at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

Todd Bankhead threw two touchdown passes in the final three minutes of the first half to push the Minutemen in front and then a strong second half saw off the Bulls 51-27. Bankhead threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in the victory while Marcel Shipp gashed Buffalo for 221 yards on 26 carries but only found the end zone once. Jeremy Robinson led a strong defensive effort for UMass with two interceptions in the win.

Here is the Gazette story from a grand day in Amherst:

AMHERST - As he paced around prior to Saturday's game against Buffalo, University of Massachusetts football coach Mark Whipple saw two quarters and four pennies staring up at him from the ground.

"I found 54 cents," Whipple said. "I told the coaches, that's how many points we're going to score."

If not for a blocked 29-yard field goal attempt by Matt Murphy early in the second half, Whipple's silver and copper would have proved prophetic, as the Minutemen crushed Buffalo, 51-27, at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

In front of 11,672 fans in the team's home opener, Marcel Shipp showed that the new Minuteman offense isn't only about throwing the ball. The sophomore tailback rushed for 221 yards and one touchdown on 26 carries.

"Marcel was healthy this week and he showed the kind of player he is," Whipple said. "I told him he was going to run for 175 this week. I guess he proved me wrong."

A sprained thumb on his throwing hand early in the game helped bring junior quarterback Todd Bankhead's numbers back to earth. After two straight weeks of 323 yards passing, he finished with 192 yards and three touchdowns on 13-of-30 attempts. He also rushed for 28 yards, including a touchdown.

Highlights were scarce for the Bulls, as only the passing tandem of Chad Salisbury (27-of-40, 375 yards, two TDs), and receiver Drew Haddad (11 catches, 173 yards), stood out.

"We played a horrible football game," said Buffalo coach Craig Cirbus. "We had breakdowns in fundamentals and once the fundamentals broke down, everything else broke down with it."

Starting their first drive on their own 40-yard line, four of UMass' first six plays were good for first downs, capped by a 14-yard run by Shipp, in which he dragged would-be tacklers with him into the end zone. Murphy's PAT made it 7-0.

After Buffalo turned the ball over on downs at the Minuteman 30, UMass quickly made it 14-0 on a Kerry Taylor touchdown reception from Bankhead and Murphy's kick. (Taylor's TD reception gives him 11 in his career, moving him into fifth all-time at UMass in that category).

The Bulls, came back, however, scoring 14 unanswered points on consecutive drives to tie the game.

Bankhead struggled on the next series, throwing three straight incompletions and forcing the Minutemen to punt.

The Bulls marched back into UMass territory, and had a third-and-2 at the Minuteman 37, but tailback Josh Roth fumbled as he crossed the line of scrimmage and UMass cornerback Jerard White pounced on the ball at the 40-yard line.

The Minutemen seized momentum as Bankhead handed off the ball to Shipp, who then handed the ball to receiver Eddie Bowman for an apparent reverse.

But instead of running, Bowman launched a bomb to receiver Jimmy Moore, who hauled in the pass at the far sideline near the Bulls 10-yard-line and sprinted in to the endzone. Murphy's kick made it 21-14.

"We're always looking to make a big play on both sides of the ball," Whipple said. "Those can be back breakers for the other team."

The teams traded TDs to make to 28-20 before the Minutemen took over. Bankhead found Moore in the endzone from 16-yards out with 23 seconds left in the half to give UMass a 35-20 lead. The crowd gave the Minutemen a warm cheer as they headed into the locker room.

The UMass defense set the tone for the second half. After forcing the Bulls to go three-and-out on their first possession, UMass' 16-play drive came up empty when Murphy's 29-yard field goal try was blocked. But on the very next play Khari Samuel chased tailback Derrick Gordon down from behind and stripped the ball free.

The Minutemen recovered at the Buffalo 8. One play later Bankhead scrambled into the endzone and rout was on at 41-20.

Buffalo cut the lead to 41-27 on a 1-yard plunge by Roth, but Jeremy Robinson made his first of two interceptions on Buffalo's next drive.

"The key was that our defense came up with interceptions and fumbles and our offense responded with scores," Whipple said.

Things likely won't go so easily Saturday, as Hofstra is ranked No. 6 in the nation, but Whipple has a solution.

"I hope I find a dollar bill."

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