UMass stuns Liberty in triple overtime, 62-59

  • Zak Simon, of UMass, evades a tackle from Liberty’s Corbin Jackson during the first quarter, Saturday at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst. COURTESY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

  • UMass quarterback Ross Comis, left, celebrates with receiver Andy Isabelle after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter, Saturday at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst. COURTESY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

  • Kentory Matthews, of Liberty, looks for room against UMass, during the first quarter, Saturday at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst. COURTESY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

  • UMass quarterback Ross Comis drags Solomon Ajayi, of Liberty, for extra yards during the first quarter, Saturday at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst. COURTESY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

  • UMass receiver Andy Isabella is dragged out of bounds by Isaac Steele, of Liberty, during the second quarter, Saturday at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst. COURTESY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

  • UMass quarterback Ross Comis dives across the goal line for a touchdown with Corbin Jackson, of Liberty, wrapped around his legs during the first quarter, Saturday at McGuirk Stadium. COURTESY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

  • UMass receiver Andy Isabella runs in for a touchdown against Liberty during the second quarter, Saturday at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst. COURTESY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

  • UMass linebacker Jarell Addo tackles Kentory Matthews, of Liberty, from behind during the first quarter, Saturday at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst. COURTESY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/3/2018 10:42:08 PM

AMHERST — For the second week in a row, UMass stared down a two-score deficit in the fourth quarter.

And for the second week in a row, the Minutemen didn’t blink.

Liberty scored three touchdowns in a span of 3 minutes, 14 seconds to flip a seven-point deficit into a two-touchdown lead over UMass on Saturday. But the Minutemen put together a pair of 10-play drives on their final two possessions to tie the game and force overtime.

Once in overtime, UMass outlasted the Flames 62-59 on a 22-yard field goal from Cooper Garcia in the third extra sessions.

“Overall (it’s about) just having heart, faith and believing in one another,” senior linebacker Jarell Addo said. “If everybody executes their job with a sense of urgency, we’ll be successful that play. If we keep chaining those plays together, it doesn’t matter what plays or schemes they may have, if we keep doing that, we’ll look at the scoreboard and be happy with what the results say.”

On the first of UMass’ two scoring drives in the fourth quarter, the Minutemen (4-6) converted a fourth down on an illegal substitution penalty. They then ran into a fourth-and-12 from the Liberty 38-yard line. This time, Sadiq Palmer caught a 27-yard pass on a play coach Mark Whipple said he ran the wrong route.

Ross Comis finished the drive with a 6-yard rushing touchdown and then waited for his next chance. The redshirt senior needed to lead UMass 75 yards in 2:46, but the drive got off to a terrible start when he was sacked and UMass was called for an illegal shift. The Minutemen worked their way into a manageable fourth-down situation and converted it again on a pass to Palmer.

Marquis Young almost carried UMass the rest of the way, toting the ball four times for 49 yards, including the game-tying 9-yard scamper with 25 seconds left.

“These guys believe in me and they trust what I say,” Comis said. “When I keep my spirits high, it helps everyone else out. Down two touchdowns, that’s nothing. We had 11 minutes to go and we know what we can do, we score quick. We really weren’t worried. There’s obviously some pressure, but we made those plays.”

The comeback seemed daunting in the early part of the fourth quarter when all the momentum was sitting squarely with Liberty (4-4). With a 31-24 lead, UMass went three-and-out in the shadow of its own end zone and George Georgopoulos’ punt took a bounce in Liberty’s favor to set up the Flames inside Minutemen territory. The Flames took advantage with a touchdown to tie the game and then converted another short field created by a bad bounce on a punt into a touchdown.

The backbreaking blow could have come when Young fumbled on UMass’ next possession and Liberty returned the loose ball inside the UMass 5. Frank Boyd scored his second of three rushing touchdowns on the next play to instill a 45-31 lead with 11:01 left to play.

Whipple said he decided to change his sideline demeanor at that point in order to spur his players.

“The fourth quarter, there was a lot of frustration showing, it didn’t seem like the same team I coached last week at UConn,” Whipple said. “I just got more positive with them and brought them in. ... We kind of flipped it. I don’t really know how, but credit those kids.”

Both teams scored quickly in the first overtime as both quarterbacks led easy touchdown drives. Comis led a simple scoring in the second period as well, but Liberty answered after converting a fourth-and-1.

Liberty began on offense in the third extra session and converted another fourth-and-1 to extend the drive. A false start sent the Flames back 5 yards and Stephen Calvert dropped back to pass on second down. He threw the ball into double coverage down the middle of the field, but it was a third defender, Addo, who dove in and intercepted the pass.

From there, UMass drove to the 6 before facing a fourth down and electing to send out Garcia to win the game.

“The scout team had given us a great look all week and we had seen that play before,” Addo said. “Those are the plays you dream about. I dreamt about it last night, visualized making it today and I got my number called.”

The fourth-quarter and overtime heroics overshadowed a record-setting day by senior Andy Isabella. The receiver from Mayfield, Ohio, had nine catches for a school-record 303 yards, shattering Victor Cruz’s previous mark of 262 yards against James Madison in 2008. He did almost all of his damage in the first three quarters during which he had eight of his catches, 282 of his yards and both of his touchdowns.

He burned the Liberty defense deep early and often, catching four passes for at least 40 yards, including an 89-yard touchdown for the game’s first points. In the second quarter, Isabella turned a simple screen pass into a 61-yard touchdown, wiggling his way out of traffic before turning on his speed up the sidelines. He also had receptions of 58 and 48 yards that set up the Minutemen inside the red zone.

“We thought they were going to have some looks that were going to get him open down the field,” Whipple said. “I’m looking at the weather report and it’s 20-25 mile-per-hour winds but we kept at it. Ross threw some good balls and Izzy has got the speed that if he gets a little bit over, just give him a chance.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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