UMass football: Minutemen limp to finish line in disappointing 31-18 season-ending loss to UConn

UMass defenders Tyler Rudolph (2) and Jerry Roberts Jr. (48) help make a tackle on UConn running back Victor Rosa (22) during the Minutemen’s 31-18 loss on Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst.

UMass defenders Tyler Rudolph (2) and Jerry Roberts Jr. (48) help make a tackle on UConn running back Victor Rosa (22) during the Minutemen’s 31-18 loss on Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

UMass tight end Gino Campiotti (13) stiff-arms UConn’s Lee Molette III (21) on his way to the end zone for a touchdown during the Minutemen’s 31-18 loss on Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst.

UMass tight end Gino Campiotti (13) stiff-arms UConn’s Lee Molette III (21) on his way to the end zone for a touchdown during the Minutemen’s 31-18 loss on Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

UMass players tackle UConn running back Victor Rosa (22) during the Minutemen’s 31-18 loss on Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst.

UMass players tackle UConn running back Victor Rosa (22) during the Minutemen’s 31-18 loss on Saturday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

By GEORGE MILLER

For the Recorder

Published: 11-25-2023 5:47 PM

Modified: 11-25-2023 5:47 PM


AMHERST – Saturday's first half tripped up UMass with turnovers and left the Minutemen in a deep hole in their final game of 2023, deep-sixing their chance to equal the high-water mark in the program's Division I FBS history.

Connecticut opened with an interception return for a touchdown less than five minutes into the action and built up a 19-0 halftime lead, more than enough of a comfortable cushion to put down UMass, 31-18, before a sun-splashed but chilled crowd of 12,291 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

The Minutemen (3-9) turned the ball over three times in the first quarter alone, with the pick-six and a pair of lost fumbles. Two of those turnovers led directly to nine points for the Huskies.

“We have been very good at taking care of the football, and today we just didn't,” said UMass coach Don Brown. “When we've been successful, we've been positive in that turnover margin. Today we literally gave them field position.

“I thought the guys kept competing. It was almost too little, too late. I thought we had a good plan, but the turnover thing will bite you right in the butt if you let it.”

UMass got on the board early in the third quarter when Taisun Phommachanh hit Gino Campiotti with a 10-yard touchdown pass, and Kay'Ron Lynch-Adams ran for a pair of fourth-quarter scores. Yet after falling behind by three scores at halftime, from that point forward, the Minutemen were in effect only trading points with the Huskies.

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The game's opening drive ended early for UMass when Phommachanh was hit by Pryce Yates and fumbled, with Jelani Stafford recovering for Connecticut at midfield. The Huskies couldn't move it, though, going three-and-punt.

UConn's Mumu Bin-Wahad jumped a route and got in front of a Phommachanh pass for an easy pickoff and a 45-yard return with 10:04 left in the first quarter. The Huskies then botched the snap from center and Joe McFadden's point-after kick was blocked by Isaiah Rutherford, keeping the deficit at 6-0.

Two series later, at the end of a 15-play, 80-yard drive, the UMass defense stopped UConn's defensive-tackle-turned-fullback Stafford on fourth-and-1 from the UMass 5 to force a turnover on downs. But the Minutemen didn't keep the ball for long. Jackson Mitchell forced a fumble from Lynch-Adams that Lee Molette recovered at the 28. The Huskies would turn that fumble into McFadden's first field goal, a 31-yarder, with 13:42 left in the half to make it 9-0.

UMass then failed on fourth-and-2 from its own 44 and gave the ball back to the visitors, who got another 30-yard three-point boot from McFadden for a 12-0 lead.

Backup punter Riley Moore, subbing for the injured CJ Kolodziey, then had his kick partially blocked – one of two punt blocks on the afternoon – and it traveled only 19 yards to the UMass 37, followed by a holding penalty that put the ball at the 27. UConn was in the end zone three plays later, thanks to Victor Rosa's 17-yard run, to lead 19-0.

The Minutemen then capitalized on a turnover when UConn's Ta'Quan Roberson lost the ball on a hit by Jordan Mahoney and Tyler Rudolph recovered at the Huskies' 37. A personal-foul call helped the drive along and Phommachanh finished it with his TD pass to Campiotti. With Kolodziey hurt and unable to hold on extra points, UMass was forced to go for two points after each of its touchdowns, and failed all three times.

McFadden missed a 48-yard field goal try, but UConn got it right on its next series, a 70-yard drive, capped off by Cam Edwards' 4-yard run with 1:08 left in the third. Roberson's two-point pass was incomplete, creating a 25-6 score after three quarters.

From there, Lynch-Adams (team-high 51 yards) added a pair of 1-yard TD runs, the second coming with only 2:03 left as UMass pushed the ball downfield quickly on a 4-play, 78-yard drive. In between, Edwards (game-high 102 yards) had an 8-yard scoring run for Connecticut. In the second half, the teams combined to go 0-for-5 on their two-point attempts.

Lynch-Adams ended his season with 1,157 rushing yards, surpassing Ellis Merriweather as the Minutemen's all-time single-season rushing leader since the program entered Division I FBS in 2012.

UMass managed only 59 yards on the ground, 289 yards in all, and found itself forced to throw regularly once trailing by three scores. Phommachanh went 18-of-30 through the air for 230 yards.

Injuries bit the Minutemen Saturday as offensive guard Cole Garcia and veteran nose tackle Billy Wooden left the field. Wooden appeared to suffer a left arm injury late in the fourth quarter and was taken from the stadium in an ambulance after the game.

Roberson was 16-of-28 passing for 174 yards and the Huskies (3-9) also piled up 240 yards on the ground, running 74 offensive plays to UMass' 56 and keeping possession of the ball for some 37 1/2 minutes.

“We're going in the right direction. We got it from one (win) to three. I really felt good about our opportunity that we had today for the fourth (win)," said Brown. "I would have been really excited if we had gotten that fourth win today, so we'd have matched the best thing that's been done here in FBS football.

“The general population goes by one thing, the wins and losses, but there's a lot of things that occur that you can see us taking the jump. I'm a little crazy, but I'm not negative, and I move on pretty quickly. That's what you gotta do, and you've gotta bring the players with you. Myself and the staff I've assembled expect results, and I think we've got the guys with us.”