UMass puts scare into No. 25 Florida, falls 24-7 in opener

  • Massachusetts quarterback Ross Comis (2) throws a pass against Florida during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

  • Florida running back Lamical Perine (22) fumbles the ball as he is hit by Massachusetts defensive lineman Ali Ali-Musa (90) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

  • Massachusetts quarterback Ross Comis looks for a receiver during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida , Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

  • Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio (14) scrambles against Massachusetts during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

  • Florida running back Jordan Cronkrite (32) runs for yardage against Massachusetts during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

  • Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio (14) throws a pass as he is pressured by Massachusetts linebacker Shane Huber (8) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

  • Massachusetts head coach Mark Whipple directs his team against Florida during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

  • Massachusetts head coach Mark Whipple directs his team against Florida during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

  • Massachusetts quarterback Ross Comis (2) runs for a touchdown against the Florida defense during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

@MattVautourDHG
Published: 9/4/2016 1:11:10 AM

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – There was genuine nervousness in the Swamp, all the way through the third quarter.

The 88,121 in attendance were largely quiet as the UMass football team put a scare into No. 25 Florida, one of the sport’s true blue bloods.

The Gators eventually pulled away for a 24-7 win Saturday night, but UMass coach Mark Whipple left the game upbeat about his team’s potential.

“The loss was disappointing, but I think there’s a lot of things we can build off of,” Whipple said. “Our guys were confident we could win the game in the fourth quarter. We just didn’t get it done.”

UMass had the ball trailing 10-7 to start the final quarter, but had to punt right away. Florida, which hadn’t found a rhythm to that point, played a hurry-up offense on back-to-back drives. The first resulted in a 49-yard field goal by Eddy Pineiro to put the Gators up 13-7 and the second provided the knockout blow.

Minuteman safety Lee Moses had Brandon Powell stopped behind the line of scrimmage on second-and-3, but the junior receiver shook free at the UMass 28 and raced in for the touchdown that made it 21-7 with 8 minutes, 4 seconds left.

Florida added another field goal late to seal the win.

“We needed something to change the momentum,” Whipple said. “I was proud of our guys. Our defense did a good job. We didn’t turn the ball over on offense. We just couldn’t make anything happen. ... To win these types of games you need a cheap one. You need them to turn the ball over.”

Marquis Young carried the load for the UMass running game pretty much by himself. He had 19 carries for 59 yards as Florida keyed on him throughout.

Quarterback Ross Comis was 9 for 17 for 141 yards, no interceptions and one rushing touchdown. Sophomore Andy Isabella had a breakout game at receiver with three catches for 95 yards.

UMass (0-1) hosts Boston College (0-1) at Gillette Stadium, Saturday at noon.

“Down 10-7 going into the fourth quarter, I’d have taken that if you told me that on Monday,” Whipple said. “We just couldn’t make the plays down at the end. It’s only one game, but we think we’re better.”

Junior linebacker Da’Sean Downey agreed.

“We made a lot of improvements,” he said. “We came down here to win, but at the same time we took a step forward as a program. That was the plan.”

At times in the first half, Florida’s play calling looked like that of a team trying to pull an upset not avoid one. On the game’s first play from scrimmage, quarterback Luke Del Rio tried for a touchdown pass from his own 21 and overthrew the receiver, eventually leading to a Florida punt.

The Gators got on the board on their second drive. After successfully converting on fourth-and-1, Del Rio took advantage of a miscommunication on defense for UMass and hit a wide open Antonio Calloway for a 12-yard touchdown that made it 7-0 with 3:57 left in the first quarter.

But UMass answered right away. Its scoring drive didn’t look like much when it started as two Florida unsportsmanlike penalties kept the Minutemen from punting.

Facing fourth-and-14 from the Florida 36, Whipple chose to go for it. Comis hadn’t completed a pass to that point and Jalen Williams hadn’t caught one since 2014, but Comis hit him for 24 yards on the last play of the first quarter to keep the drive a live.

A 7-yard run by Marquis Young gave UMass second down on the Gator 5. Comis rolled left, slipped out of a defender’s grasp and ran in for a 5-yard touchdown that tied the game 7-7, 42 seconds into the second quarter.

Florida coach Jim McElwain took points off the board for his team and it cost him later in the quarter. Perhaps trying to douse some of UMass’ optimism, he accepted the Minutemen’s offside penalty after Pineiro made a 28-yard field goal. The play gave the Gators a fourth-and-1, but Da’Sean Downey dragged down Mark Thompson behind the line of scrimmage with 8:25 left.

Comis’ inexperience cost the Minutemen late in the half. Trying to make a play, he took a 17-yard sack on third down that gave the home team a short field. Still, the UMass defense forced Florida to settle for a 40-yard field goal that made it 10-7 at intermission.

“I was disappointed, and Ross will learn, but I told them you have to throw the ball away,” Whipple said.

Junior college transfer Teddy Lowery made 11 stops, while Shane Huber had eight for the UMass defense.

“We played hard and we played with passion,” Huber said. “We focused on meshing as a unit and I thought it showed.”




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