Fast start not enough for UMass football in loss to Maine

  • UMass junior running back Ellis Merriweather ran for a career-high 177 yards against Maine on Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. It was Merriweather’s fifth 100-yard game of the season, setting a UMass FBS single-season record. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • The UMass defense struggled to contain Maine running back Elijah Barnwell on Saturday. He compiled a team-high 89 yards and scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to put the game away at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/13/2021 6:42:13 PM

AMHERST – The Alex Miller Era began with a flurry.

UMass scored twice in the first quarter for the first time this season and built a 10-point lead in two drives. Junior running back Ellis Merriweather gained 100 yards. Maine only managed eight offensive plays.

“I thought the guys had really good energy,” said Miller, named UMass interim head coach this week. “Football is crazy.”

The Minutemen couldn’t sustain it. The Black Bears scored 35 unanswered points Saturday at McGurk Alumni Stadium to prevail 35-10, handing UMass its second consecutive loss to an FCS program. The Minutemen have now lost four games in a row.

UMass (1-9) outgained Maine 147-33 in the first quarter. Freshman quarterback Brady Olson capped a six-play, 75-yard opening drive with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Josiah Johnson out of an unbalanced formation. Cameron Carson tacked on a 42-yard field goal following a Black Bears three-and-out to make it 10-0 with 5 minutes, 11 seconds left in the first quarter.

Over the final three quarters, Maine amassed 333 yards compared to just 150 for UMass. Freddie Brock put Maine on the board with an 18-yard touchdown run featuring a great cutback 3:29 into the second.

The Minutemen only managed 10 yards as a response, then Joe Fagano eventually found Devin Young for an eight-yard score that made it 14-10 with 3:21 to halftime.

UMass punted after gaining just four yards, but its defense held Maine to a three-and-out and got the ball back with 1:16 to halftime at the UMass 45.

After two incomplete passes, Merriweather – who ran for 177 yards – gained nine on a draw.  The Minutemen went right back to Merriweather, and he picked up 16 on fourth and one. A late hit put the ball at the 15. It looked like, at worst UMass, would kick a field goal and make it a one-score game.

Two incompletions later, Maine sent a massive blitz on third down. Olson retreated and threw the ball out of bounds to avoid a sack and lost time since the Minutemen had no timeouts after using them to get the ball back. He was whistled for intentional grounding with 13 seconds left, necessitating a 10-second runoff. The clock was set to start on the referee’s signal, so UMass rushed out its field goal unit for a desperate 53-yard attempt. They didn’t have enough time to even snap it before the halftime whistle sounded, and the Minutemen went to the locker room down four.

“It’s experience. You take the sack, maybe you shouldn’t of. Somebody does something wrong, you expect the next position group to pick them up,” Miller said. “Unfortunately we didn't execute that the way we should have. We haven’t been in a lot of those situations, and the more times you can get them, the more you can learn from them.”

Maine received the second half kickoff, and Young returned it 46 yards to the Maine 49. The Black Bears then marched 51 yards in seven plays, taking a 21-10 lead on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Fagnano to Shawn Bowman. Fagnano threw for 209 yards.

Elijah Barnwell (84 yards) added two fourth-quarter touchdowns to put the game completely out of reach.

“When you’re a competitive person, you don’t like losing,” Miller said. “But all week I’ve been talking about being a family. I never once talked about winning or losing, and we’re going to continue to talk about that.”

Merriweather’s 177 yards on the ground were a career high. He eclipsed the century mark for the fifth time this season, the most every by a UMass back in the FBS era. Marquis Young had four 100-yard games in 2016 and 2017.

UMass finished its six-game home schedule 1-5, beating UConn in October. The Minutemen will travel to Army next Saturday then close the season at New Mexico State on Nov. 27.

“The thing you learn the most about being out there is the ebbs and flows of the game. I pride myself on controlling my emotions and making sure I’m a rock for those guys,” Miller said. “That’s the beauty about when you get thrown in a fire like this. You see what burns, and you see what doesn’t.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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