The Road To Chattanooga: Richmond

Staff Writer
Published: 9/12/2018 3:41:22 PM

Let’s hop in the time machine and go back 20 years to see how UMass was doing on its road to the only national championship in program history. This week, we’re off to Richmond, Virginia for the Minutemen’s first Atlantic 10 game of the year against the Spiders.

UMass saved it until late, but Todd Bankhead found Jimmy Moore for an 18-yard touchdown with less than a minute left to lift the Minutemen to a 22-17 win over Richmond on Sept. 12, 1998. Bankhead threw for 323 yards and three scores to counteract his one interception while Marcel Shipp picked up 99 yards on the ground. Defensively, Kole Ayi led UMass with 15 tackles and intercepted a pass while Khari Samuel chipped in 12 stops and forced a fumble.

Here is the Gazette’s game story from the first win of the first Mark Whipple era.

RICHMOND, Va. - Trailing 17-16 to Richmond with 1:01 remaining in the game, Todd Bankhead lofted the 18-yard pass into the air and the University of Massachusetts junior quarterback hoped for a little intervention.

"I was praying to God that we could pull this one off," Bankhead said.

While the pass may have looked like the product of Andy Maclay's foot and not Bankhead's arm, it was all the same to wide receiver Jimmy Moore, who hauled it in at the back of the end zone.

"He made a great play," Bankhead said. "I saw him get behind the corner and I just threw it up there. It looked like a punt, but he went up and got it."

The two-point conversion failed, but the Minuteman defense did not. Capping an impressive day it held on for the last minute to give UMass a 22-17 win over the Spiders in Atlantic 10 play Saturday.

"We were just really fortunate," Bankhead said. "If we didn't get that one, it would be just horrible for team. We just had to have that one. We were blessed to come out with a victory. I'd rather win ugly than lose pretty. It's just good to come out with a W."

The victory gave the Minutemen (1-1, 1-0 A-10) their first win under new coach Mark Whipple.

"It was a great win for the kids. They had to give everything that they had just to find a way to win," Whipple said.

For the second straight week, UMass pinned its hopes on its final drive of the game. but unlike last Thursday in Delaware, this time had a happy ending.

"Jimmy ran a good route and Todd found him under pressure," Whipple said. "They were tired. It was hot and our guys just found a way. That probably means we're going to have a pretty good season."

That final drive may never have happened if it wasn't for the heroics of the Minuteman defense.

With 5:04 remaining in the game, Spider Jasper Pendergrass plowed into the end zone from four yards out. His touchdown, coupled with the PAT, put the hosts ahead, 17-16.

The Minutemen's offense couldn't respond and was forced to punt five plays later with less than four minutes remaining.

Not willing to let the Spiders further attack the clock or the scoreboard, the UMass defense stepped up. On Richmond's next play, UMass linebacker Khari Samuel drilled running back TyRonne Turner as he came across the line of scrimmage.

The ball popped loose and Minuteman defensive back Jeremy Robinson recovered at midfield setting UMass' final drive.

"I was real excited," Robinson said afterward. "Khari hit him he fumbled and I was just happy to grab it and give the offense another chance. I just stepped up like the whole defense. I'm just glad we got a win."

Linebacker Kole Ayi said the defense planned on causing a turnover.

"We were trying to get the ball," said Ayi, who registered 13 tackles and an interception. "There wasn't that much time left. We were ecstatic coming off that field."

The Minutemen dominated the first half taking a 13-3 lead into halftime.

On UMass' second drive of the game, the Minutemen were faced with a 4th-and-5 from the Richmond 26 yard line. Too deep to punt and too far to try a field goal, UMass opted to go for it.

Bankhead broke free from would-be sacker Connor Mardsen and rolled right, but instead of settling for a first down, hit a wide-open Marcel Shipp on the eight-yard line.

The running back fought off two late-arriving tacklers for the first touchdown of the game. Matt Murphy added the PAT to put the Minutemen ahead 7-0.

A 30-yard field goal by Jeff Falkowski cut the visitors lead to 7-3 with 1:23 left in the second period.

Minuteman freshman Adrian Zullo fumbled the ensuing kickoff to give Richmond the ball, but he made up for it shortly after.

Starting at UMass' 41-yard-line, the Spiders were held to just four yards on the next four plays and the Minutemen took over on downs.

With just 43 seconds remaining until halftime, a conservative coach would have taken a knee, but Whipple continued to prove that he's not conservative.

Bankhead directed the Minutemen 27 yards to the Spider 38, and called time-out with five seconds left. On the final play of the half, Zullo broke free from his defender and caught Bankhead's pass in the corner of the end zone.

"We told Bankhead if he could get one-on-one to Zullo on the backside, to take it," Whipple said. "He made a great throw ... his best throw, I think, of the year."

Zullo's American Bandstand-worthy touchdown dance cost UMass 15-yards for excessive celebration on the extra-point, which Murphy missed, but the Minutemen went to the locker room ahead 13-3.

In the second half, Richmond scored two touchdowns against just a field goal by the Minutemen to take a 17-16 lead and set up the late-game theatrics.

Bankhead finished with 323 yards passing for the second straight week (26-of-43) with three touchdowns and one interceptions. Kerry Taylor was the leading UMass target, catching nine passes for 98 yards. Shipp had 129 all-purpose yards, with 99 on the ground (21 carries) and 30 in the air on three catches.

Whipple saluted his defense after the game.

"I thought our defense played very very well," he said. "That was the key. They stepped up. They played great red zone defense, hung in there and at the end they made the huge play on the fumble."

The Minutemen get a week off before returning home on Saturday the 26th against Buffalo.

Notes: Zullo's four-catch, 77-yard receiving performance including a touchdown earned him the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week.

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