UMass football, trying to build off first win, hosts Appalachian State

  • Quarterback Andrew Ford and the UMass football team host Appalachian State, Saturday at McGuirk Stadium. AP

@MattVautourDHG
Published: 10/26/2017 9:49:47 PM

AMHERST — For the second straight week, the UMass football team will take on a program it faced in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the Division I-AA championship.

Appalachian State, which beat UMass for the title in 2006, follows George Southern, the Minutemen’s 1998 opponent, to McGuirk Stadium for a 3:30 p.m. game Saturday.

But other than going from FCS power to the Sun Belt, the Mountaineers don’t have much in common with the Eagles.

App State’s transition to FBS is the dream of most teams moving up. The Mountaineers completed the move in 2015 and immediately earned a bid in the Camellia Bowl, where they beat Ohio. Last year, they won the Sun Belt and beat Toledo in the Camellia Bowl again.

At 5-2 overall, 4-0 in the conference, they’re the favorites to win the Sun Belt again and need just one more win to be bowl eligible.

To turn last week’s win into a winning streak, the Minutemen (1-6) will have to play better to beat a better opponent.

“Appalachian State is one of the better teams in the Sun Belt, it would definitely be a great win for our program,” senior linebacker Steve Casali said. “It all starts with practice. If you prepare well you’ll play well.”

Quarterback Andrew Ford said the Georgia Southern win is behind them.

“We know last week is in the past,” Ford said. “It doesn’t mean anything if we don’t start to string things together. We can build off of it and learn from it.”

Ford said last week’s win was just a step on the team’s path.

“I think we’ve been turning the corner, we just haven’t been finishing or getting the results. We’re close. We’re not where we need to be but we took a step Saturday,” he said. “We’re looking forward to taking the next one this week.”

Senior tight end Adam Breneman hoped the win was a jumping off point.

“We’re looking at this as a chance to keep the train rolling and hopefully make a big splash in these last five weeks,” he said. “We really believe we can beat any team we play.”

The game will be UMass’ final one in Amherst this season as the Minutemen’s sixth home game is Nov. 11 at Fenway Park in Boston. Whipple decided to make the Fenway game senior day, but the significance of their final game on campus isn’t lost of the players.

“It’s been an honor to play at McGuirk. I love playing here. It’s my favorite place to play. I’m going to miss it a lot,” Casali said. “It’ll make it 10 times better once we get this W.”

Getting that win won’t be easy. App State’s only losses were at Georgia and at home against Wake Forest. The Mountaineers are undefeated against Group of Five foes. Their five victories include wins over Coastal Carolina, which defeated UMass earlier this season, and Idaho, which has former Minuteman coach Charley Molnar as its quarterbacks coach.

Unlike UMass, which has struggled in close games, Appalachian State is 3-1 in games decided by single digits.

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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