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Wasn't Pretty, but EMU Still Beat UMass on Homecoming
Down 10-0 at the half, EMU needed a third-quarter surge to get past the former MAC team.
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Final: Eastern Michigan 20, UMass 13
A win’s a win.
Could things have looked better? Yes, of course.
Could things have been worse though? They almost were.
Eastern Michigan didn’t play its best game in front of 16,478 fans for this year’s homecoming game against UMass, but, again, a win is a win. After the Eagles trailed UMass 10-0 at halftime, the Eagles out-scored the Minutemen 20-3 in the second half.
On UMass final offensive drive, the Minutemen converted one 4th & 1 play and tried to go for a second. Graduate transfer linebacker Joe Sparacio, who missed the first half of the game, delivered a huge hit on the UMass ball-carrier behind the line of scrimmage to give the game a thundering end.
“Two homecomings in a row where our defense saved the day,” EMU head coach Chris Creighton said after EMU’s 20-13 win over UMass. “(EMU’s defensive coaches) had some conversations about adjustments that they could make to get people off the field and improve the third-down stops… so they came up with something that worked and that our guys bought into and believed in.”
Eastern’s record improved to 3-2 overall, and is now finished with its non-conference slate. All that’s left now for EMU is its seven remaining games in MAC play, which EMU already has a 0-1 start in with last week’s loss to Buffalo.
Not only did EMU not score in the first half, but the team didn’t even get into the red zone for the first 35 minutes of the game.
On Eastern’s game-opening drive, the offense crossed midfield but gave the ball over to UMass after a big hit. Tight end Aaron Jackson received the ball on a jet sweep play but a UMass defensive lineman Billy Wooden came in and blew up the whole operation. Jackson lost the ball on impact, and UMass grabbed the loose ball and recovered in EMU territory.
While Jose Ramirez got his first two tackles for loss (one sack) of the season on the ensuing defensive drive, UMass QB Gino Campiotti ran for 32 of the drive’s 49 possible yards to put the away team on the board first.
Throughout the entire first half, the Eagles had issues moving the ball with consistency. Even though EMU out-paced UMass on offense (4.9 yards per play for EMU, 3.8 average for UMass), Eastern didn’t score at all in the first half. After the team’s game-opening fumble, EMU punted the ball away three times, was intercepted by UMass’ defense once, and had the ball at the end of the first half.
Eastern found itself down 10-0 at the half, then 13-0 after a 47-yard field goal by UMass to start the third quarter.
One of the biggest concerns for this defense this year has been its ability to stop, or even slow down, opponents quarterbacks that are able to run the ball well. UMass’ Gino Campiotti had 83 rushing yards through the first half, lost two rushing yards in the third quarter, then with a 24-yard run late int he fourth quarter, finished the day with 118 total rush yards on 25 attempts.
“We wanted to stop the run, we wanted to stop the QB run a little bit more effective(ly). They ran duo a couple times for 4-5 yards and we focused on that (and) made a couple of adjustments,” team captain and linebacker Chase Kline said after the game. “Getting Joe (Sparacio) back was great, Tariq (Speights) played well, Justin (Jefferson) played well, everybody came in and did their job well.”
Sparacio was ejected last week vs. Buffalo for a helmet-to-helmet hit. Since he was ejected in the second half of last week’s game, he had to also miss the first half this week.
Campiotti had a game-opening rush score, and almost had a second score in the second quarter. Campiotti initially ran in a short TD run, but was called back for holding by one of his team’s offensive linemen. The Minutemen settled for a 30-yard field goal to go up 10-0 instead.
“It’s a good thing that we’re seeing it early because it’ll prepare us later,” Kline said.
Going for two(-score leads)
Riding the team’s second-half success, EMU tried to get to a two-score lead as soon as it had an opportunity to.
In the fourth quarter, after Darius Boone’s 8-yard TD run put the Eagles up 20-13, EMU passed on a PAT kick and went to the air instead. Smith’s pass was incomplete, and wouldn’t get the 9-point advantage that it was looking for.
“Obviously the first decision that I made didn’t go the way that we wanted it to, but we may make it a two-score game right there. The game isn’t over, but it makes it a completely different ball game for them,” Creighton explained.
On EMU’s next drive with just over seven minutes remaining, the offense sputtered for a three-and-out. Before EMU lined up to punt the ball over to UMass, kicker Jesus Gomez was sent out try for a 56-yard field goal attempt. However, Creighton hesitated on calling for the field goal, and the team took a delay of game penalty instead to back up and punted the ball away instead.
“I hesitated on the field goal, like I basically want to say ‘Is he going to make it? Yes, he’s going to make it,’ and got him out there and we just didn’t get it off in time,” Creighton said. “I probably put us behind the 8-ball, timing-wise on that, but we certainly have confidence in Jesus. There was a little bit of a breeze, cross-wind, but he certainly wasn’t kicking against the wind in that situation. And he’s hit that before, not in games, but he’s certainly capable of hitting that.”
Smith’s 2nd start, TDs finally put EMU ahead
Even though Taylor Powell dressed, he graduate transfer quarterback and team captain didn’t play Saturday. Instead, it was Austin Smith’s offense to lead again.
Creighton said after the game that Powell was ruled day-to-day on Monday and was cleared to play against UMass, but opted to stick with Smith since he had more practice time this week.
Smith finished the game 13/24 passing for 122 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions thrown. On the ground, Smith had 10 total rush attempts for 33 total yards.
Smith missed some big opportunities with his arm and threw his two interceptions in the second and third quarters of the game. But on the next two drives of the third quarter, Smith found Darius Lassiter for an 8-yard strike to cap off an 11-play drive for the team’s first score, then he lobbed up a 39-yard throw over the middle for Tanner Knue to receive and score.
The touchdown receptions were Lassiter’s first of his career at Eastern, and Knue’s fifth of the year, 10th of his career.
Hassan Beydoun, Peyton Price missed first quarter
Neither WR Hassan Beydoun and DT Peyton Price played in the first quarter against UMass.
When asked why after the game, Creighton simply said: “We just decided to not play them in the first quarter.”
Five, final stats
GAME PASSING: There were only 209 total passing yards by both teams in this game; 122 by Smith, 87 by Campiotti. On average, EMU averaged 5.1 yards per pass, UMass averaged 4.8 per pass.
WR Tanner Knue: 7 targets, 5 receptions, 72 yards, 1 TD. Knue was far and away the game’s leading receiver.
RB Samson Evans: Evans had 16 carries for 122 total yards and average a whopping 7.6 yards per carry.
DEFENSIVE PRESSURE: EMU was finally able to get more pressure in the backfield this game. 7 total tackles for loss, and Ramirez made the team’s lone sack on the day.
Mark Lee INT: The cornerback from Columbus, Ohio made his first career interception against UMass. Lee picked UMass off on its second-to-last drive of the game.