On a sun-soaked Saturday afternoon, it seemed as if the Tribe would deliver one of the most improbable upsets of the 2007 CAA season. However, a disappointed homecoming crowd was left wondering what could have been, as the fourth-ranked University of Massachusetts Minutemen overcame six turnovers and a lackadaisical first three quarters of play to defeat the Tribe 48-34.
The College’s poor special teams play and a general inability to stop the run contributed to their downfall. Brian Pate converted only two of his six field goal attempts and Minutemen tailback Brian Lawrence ripped the defense for a career-high 186 yards and three second-half rushing touchdowns.
p. Although the Tribe couldn’t come up with a victory, the team played an excellent football game against arguably their toughest opponent of the entire 2007 campaign. The College took advantage of a botched snap, forced several turnovers, and surprised an overconfident Minutemen squad by holding an 11-point lead late into the third quarter.
p. “I can’t fault our effort,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock. “We played a good game against a really good team. I would like for us to make some of those field goals. I’d like for us to play stouter against the run. All said and done, we played hard.”
p. Leading the way on the offensive side of the ball was junior quarterback Jake Phillips. For much of the contest Phillips found himself under intense pressure from the UMass defense. However, unphased by the rush, Phillips showcased his athletic ability by constantly evading defenders and scrambling for several first downs. Philips brilliantly orchestrated the most important drive of the game for the Tribe. In response to Massachusetts quarterback Liam Cohen’s sixty yard touchdown strike to open the contest, Phillips promptly marched the offense down the field for a pivotal field goal.
p. “Jake played really well, he’s a tough competitor.” Laycock said, “He understands the offense and makes good decisions by tucking it and running when he was under a lot of pressure.”
p. Freshman running back Courtland Marriner also turned in an encouraging performance with arguably his best game of the year. No longer hindered by a thumb injury, Marriner displayed the open field cuts and speed burst which make him one of the Tribe’s most intriguing young players.
p. On the defensive side of the ball, the Tribe linebacker core and secondary flew around the field with the reckless abandon of a team with nothing to lose.
p. “I think they came in pretty cocky after they dominated us last season,” junior linebacker Josh Rutter said. “They though they were going to take it to us, but I think we caught them off guard.”
p. Rutter came up with a huge play late in the fourth quarter when he forced Massachusetts tailback Brian Lawrence’s fumble, swiftly scooped up the ball, and returned it all the way to the Minutemen two-yard line. Rudder’s heroics were preceded by linebacker Michael Pigram’s dramatic 42-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
p. Unfortunately, the Tribe’s bid for an upset floundered after the two forced fumbles, as a more talented Minutemen squad pulled away for good late in the fourth quarter. A paper-thin rush defense provide little fourth quarter resistance, as the contest marked the fourth consecutive game in which the team has allowed at least 200 total yards on the ground (this omits a negative 43 yard rush on the botched snap).
p. Even though such a loss is difficult to stomach, the Tribe can take comfort in the fact that they took one of the best teams in 1-AA football down to the wire.
p. “I felt good about the way were playing out there,” Laycock said. “We held our own against one of the best teams in the league. Now we just have to go out and do that for the rest of the season.”
p. With a combination of confidence gained from their recent performance, and an improvement to the rush defense, the Tribe could easily pull off an upset during the final weeks of the season over top ranked CAA opponents, Hofstra University, James Madison University and the University of Richmond.