UMass football notebook: Ellis Merriweather carried historic load for Minutemen

  • UMass running back Ellis Merriweather ran the ball 39 times for 171 yards, as the Minutemen beat UConn 27-13 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium for the team's first win in more than two years. FOR THE GAZETTE/J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/11/2021 5:52:56 PM
Modified: 10/11/2021 5:53:00 PM

Ellis Merriweather carried a historic load Saturday in leading the UMass football team to its first win in more than two years.

The redshirt junior running back from Alpharetta, Ga., rushed the ball 39 times, the fifth-most in program history. Gary Pearson holds the record with 45 carries against AIC in 1982.

“Just to touch the ball that many times and not put the ball on the ground, that’s unbelievable from a conscientious decision maker of taking care of the football when you touch it that many times when you’re that tired,” UMass coach Walt Bell said. “He ran hard, he ran physical.” 

Merriweather gained 171 yards on the ground, the most by a Minuteman since Marquis Young hung 240 on Buffalo in 2015. He hadn’t ran for that many yards, or that many times, since high school. Merriweather’s junior college career high was 120 yards, where he was a member of a platoon backfield.

Bell also leaned on him in a way that no one has since high school. During the opening drive, Merriweather carried the ball eight times in a row to punch the ball in the end zone. He is UMass’ only healthy scholarship running back after Rutgers transfer Kay’Ron Adams was ruled out for the season this week. Bell gave Merriweather chances to take a break or come out for a play if he needed it.

“I was like ‘nah, I just want to do this for my team,’ so as long as I can move, as long as I’m healthy, I’m gonna keep going,” Merriweather said. “Even at the end I got a little bruised up, my ankle, my shoulder, but I just really wanted to go out there and finish for the team because that’s all it’s been about. We haven’t been in this position before this season, so I just wanted to be the prime example of what it means to finish.”

This week, he can rest. UMass doesn’t play again until Oct. 23 at Florida State.

“It’s definitely going to be crucial. I won’t be complaining about it,” Merriweather said. “I’m going to use it to get my body right and get ready for Florida State, that’s all I’m worried about. I'm trying to get another one.”

BYE, BYE, BYE – UMass will have an off week for the first time this season with no game scheduled for the weekend. It will be an important time to recover for the Minutemen, who have juggled injuries for most of the year.

Bell gave the players Sunday and Monday off. UMass will practice Tuesday and Wednesday then lift and condition. They’ll also have Thursday and Saturday off before beginning formal Florida State prep Sunday.

“I feel we’ll definitely carry the momentum. We’ll still be cleaning up the things we need to clean up. We’ve been working since mid-May working, grinding our butts off,” Merriweather said. “We’re definitely excited to get a week off physically, but mentally we’re still locked in and we’re still focusing on Florida State, and I know the coaches are, too.”

MARK YOUR CALENDAR – Florida State an nounced a noon kickoff for its Oct. 23 game against UMass on Monday. The Minutemen’s only remaining game without a set start time is the Nov. 27 season finale at New Mexico State.

SQUIB GAME – After Zamar Wise ran for a one-yard touchdown that all but sealed the victory by restoring UMass’ two-score lead with 4 minutes, 54 seconds remaining, Bell called for a squib kick to neutralize any chance at a momentum-altering return.

UMass kicker CJ Kolodziey rifled the ball directly at UConn linebacker Tui Faumuina-Brown. It bounced off of him, and UMass’ Gerell Johnson recovered it.

Bell stressed after that it was not a surprise onside kick.

“That’s the second time that’s happened to me in my life. The first one I was on the wrong end of it,” Bell said. “And the second one [Saturday], big man was looking over me.”

The first time was when Bell was a quality control assistant at Oklahoma State in 2009, and the Houston Cougars upset the then-No. 5 Cowboys in Stillwater, Okla.

“I’ve seen it before, just glad I was on the right side of it,” Bell said.

INTERCEPTIONS – UMass picked off its first two passes of the season Saturday. Donte Lindsay intercepted a questionable QB pass with 33 seconds remaining in the first half, and Bryce Watts snatched a pick by the sideline with 14:12 left.

The Minutemen hadn’t intercepted a pass since Nov. 26, 2019, against Northwestern. 

It was UMass’ first time winning the turnover battle since the season opener at Pittsburgh.

“If you win the turnover battle and the explosive play battle, you win 98.91 percent of the time," Bell said. “Looking at these numbers would be a strong indicator, and that’s why we won the game.”

UConn generated four plays of at least 20 yards, while UMass had three.

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

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