A-10 CHAMPS: No. 3 UMass Tops Maine 10-9, Earns A-10 Automatic I-AA Playoff Bid
Nov. 11, 2006
AMHERST, Mass. - The No. 3 Minutemen (9-1, 7-0 Atlantic 10) topped No. 19 Maine (6-4, 5-2 A-10) on Saturday, 10-9, to continue its eight-game winning streak, and more importantly, to clinch the 2006 A-10 North Division title outright. Also, by virtue of James Madison's loss to Villanova, UMass clinched the A-10's automatic qualifying bid to the I-AA playoffs, owning all tiebreakers heading into the final weekend of the regular season. With 1:44 remaining in the contest and the Black Bears trailing 10-9, kicker Devin McNeill missed the potential game-tying extra point that would have forced overtime. UMass next faces Hofstra at McGuirk Stadium next Saturday, Nov. 18, with a Noon kickoff.
UMass junior kicker Chris Koepplin kicked a 35-yard field goal which proved to be the difference as his 10th field goal of the season just five seconds into the fourth quarter put UMass ahead 10-0.
Maine mounted a comeback late in the game. The Black Bears cut the lead to 10-3 on a 34-yard field goal by Devin McNeill with 8:41 left.
After UMass failed to converted a 4th-and-1 from the Maine 49-yard line with 6:41 left in the fourth quarter, Maine took over and put themselves in position to tie the game. Quarterback Ron Whitcomb finished a 51-yard drive with a 1-yard rush with 1:44 left in the game. That set the stage for the extra point attempt. Originally, Maine tried a fake PAT with a rush by holder Michael Brusko. But the Black Bears were whistles for offsides, moving the extra point back to a 25-yard attempt which McNeill missed.
Maine tried an on-sides kick by senior Tracy Belton wrapped up his big day by recovering the kick at Maine's 45-yard line. UMass ran out the clock for the A-10 North title at the moment and eventually the A-10 crown.
UMass took a 7-0 lead on a spectacular 26-yard TD catch by Rasheed Rancher with 5:12 left in the first quarter. That was all the scoring the game would see until the fourth quarter.
Defensively, UMass was tremendous once again as all three starting linebackers: Charles Walker (17), Brad Anderson (14) and Jason Hatchell (12) all had double-figure tackle games for the second week in a row.
Belton picked off his 13th career interception and returned it 42 yards in the first quarter with 2:36 remaining.
The Minutemen also posted three sacks, while Maine -- the A-10's top sacking team had just two. Belton had a sack for a loss of eight yards on a blitz on. Senior captain James Ihedigbo also had a blitz sack for a loss of nine yards.
Perhaps the biggest sack of the day came by redshirt freshman Michael Hanson. On a fourth-down play with Maine at the UMass 36-yard line in the final minute of the first half, Hanson busted around the right side and took down Whitcomb for a six-yard loss to give UMass possession and end the half.
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