UMass football: Overtime sinks Minutemen in 34-31 loss to New Mexico

  • Umass quarterback Carlos Davis (5) throws a 24-yard pass to wide receiver Christian Wells for a touchdown against New Mexico in the second quarter Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Umass wide receiver Christian Wells (9) reels in an over-the-shoulder pass from quarterback Carlos Davis for 24-yard touchdown against New Mexico in the second quarter Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 9/23/2023 8:47:35 PM

AMHERST – Standing tall in the shotgun at his own 21-yard line with 1:39 left to play down by eight points was UMass true-freshman quarterback Ahmad Haston.

Haston had yet to play a single snap all season long, and was being asked by his head coach, Don Brown, to drive the Minutemen 79 yards down the field and tie the game.

It took him only four plays to do it, as Haston unleashed a deep ball to Anthony Simpson, who jumped in front of two New Mexico defenders to snatch the ball and dash 65 yards for a touchdown. He then connected with Gino Campiotti on the two-point conversion to send the game to overtime tied at 28.

New Mexico held UMass to a field goal on the opening possession of overtime and Lobos running back Jacory Croskey-Merritt ran in the game-winning score from two yards out to defeat the Minutemen 34-31 on Saturday evening at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

Haston was thrown into the game in the fourth quarter of a hotly contested matchup – one both teams so desperately needed to win – and answered the bell, not to Brown’s surprise.

“This young man is special,” Brown said of Haston. “We were recruiting him no matter what. He’s an outstanding football player with a tremendous future ahead of him. We were forced into a situation that we felt really kind of fit him tonight, and he was able to create some magic. I’m not sure he knew what he was doing, but the reality was, he was competing. And that’s really all you’re looking for.”

In overtime, UMass was faced with a 4th-and-1 situation at the New Mexico 16-yard line. Brown trotted kicker Cameron Carson out for a 34-yard field goal, one he drilled no problem. Potentially having Haston in at quarterback impacted the decision to go with a field goal instead of going for it on fourth down.

Either way, being the first team with the ball in overtime, Brown wanted to be sure his team put points on the board.

“It makes it too easy if you miss the kick [or] come away empty handed there, it [puts] a lot less pressure on the other team,” Brown said. “Many games have field goal, field goal, and extend the overtime. Bottom line is, each situation is a little bit different, so that’s what I thought it called for.”

On the Lobos’ ensuing possession, UMass forced them into a 3rd-and-8 right away. New Mexico quarterback Dylan Thompson dropped back and fired a pass out right to receiver Caleb Medford. The pass fell to the turf, but a flag soon followed it. Pass interference was called on Juan Lua to give the Lobos a fresh set of downs inside the 10.

“The third-down call really doesn’t sit well,” Brown said. “Our guys are screaming from the box, ‘Coach, he didn’t even touch him!’ I would much rather have that game end on a call that I make than an official’s call.”

Two plays later New Mexico was looking at 2nd-and-goal from the one-yard line. UMass came out in a 4-3 look (four down linemen, three linebackers) before switching to a 6-1 package, something they do often in these situations. The Minutemen were called for a delay-of-game penalty.

Brown responded by walking out on the field and letting the officials hear it, because UMass was seemingly wrongly flagged. This drew an unsportsmanlike conduct foul, which gave the Lobos a fresh set of downs from inside the one. Two plays later they put the game away.

“First off, I am not classless and dumb,” Brown said. “I just don’t go chasing officials, in fact, I stay the heck away from them for most of the time… when we make that move (from 4-3 to 6-1), we go ‘MOVE!’ So when the guys move, one of the byproducts is that somebody may jump. Our offense has faced that for five games, so why can't I question it? We don’t do things that are unethical.”

Defensively, the Minutemen shut out New Mexico in the second half. Saturday marked the third time this season UMass has held its opponent to zero points in the third quarter, a priority of Brown and the defense’s every game – they even write it down on their list of goals.

The offense was able to keep the Minutemen within striking distance at halftime (28-14), then the defense gave them 30 minutes in the second half to tie it up.

“They were around 190 passing yards, and that was one of those that was going south in a hurry, then all of a sudden, put the brakes on,” Brown said. “When you go from that, to virtually a shutout in the second half, that’s a really good deal. I can’t say enough about the offense, they kept us alive at halftime, and then we kind of jumped in the game and did our bit, too. That’s what you’re looking for, to play complementary football during the course of games which gives you a chance for things like tonight to happen.”

UMass (1-4) hosts Arkansas State next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in its second of three consecutive home games. The Minutemen have been so close in the fourth quarter in their last three games, but have no wins to show for. Brown appreciates the effort and determination his team has shown this season.

“I just feel bad for my guys,” Brown said. “They’re giving me everything they’ve got. It’s gonna pay. We just gotta keep grinding away, but it’s gonna pay dividends.”


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