HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. - It was a wonder Liam Coen could even lift his right arm.
Weakened by apparent food poisoning, the University of Massachusetts quarterback got his "breakfast" through an IV tube but somehow summoned the energy to throw four touchdown passes in a spectacular performance that lifted the Minutemen to 27-5 rout of Hofstra and into the 16-team playoff division tournament.
"I tried eating half a bagel, but that came right back up, too, like everything else," said Coen, who became ill after his Friday night meal. "It really hit me hard about 3 o'clock in the morning. I was a real mess."
Few in the Stuart Stadium crowd might have noticed his weakened state because he played so strong. Coen tossed two touchdown passes to J.J. Moore (7 and 42 yards), and one apiece to Rasheed Rancher (35 yards) and Ian Jorgensen (10 yards), and finished 22 of 34 for 309 yards and two interceptions.
UMass improved to 9-2 overall and 7-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association, clinching the North Division crown. UMass finished tied with Richmond for the overall conference title, and the teams were still deadlocked after three sets of tiebreakers (they didn't meet this season) to determine which school would receive the conference's automatic bid into the playoffs. A conference call between the league's athletic directors resulted in the decision to flip a coin, and eighth-ranked UMass was the winner. Richmond, which is ranked seventh, will receive an at-large berth.
Whom will the Minutemen host next weekend? Patriot League champ Fordham is a good possibility but nothing will be official until the tournament pairings are announced on ESPNU at 3:30 today.
Of course, UMass's victory was much more than Coen, who had his eighth 300-yard passing day of the season. Matt Lawrence's churning legs produced 101 yards in 25 carries. Moore finished with 11 receptions for 155 yards. And a rugged defense limited 22d-ranked Hofstra (7-4, 4-4) to 39 rushing yards and sacked Pride quarterback Bryan Savage five times.
Only losses to Boston College (34-24) and Rhode Island (12-6) blemish UMass's record as it readies for its second straight NCAA appearance and third in five years.
Does the 2007 team have what it takes to top the 2006 squad's run to the national championship game?
"We're not the prettiest team, when you evaluate it on a week-to-week basis, but we do find a way to win," said coach Don Brown. "But it was our second conference title in a row and, as you know in this league, you have to be a pretty solid team to do that.
"I'm pretty proud of my seniors. I'm pretty proud of our whole football team.
"The playoffs? We can't look past next Saturday. It's that simple."
Coen, though, was the key yesterday.
"I saw coaches on the other side high-fiving when they didn't see 12 [Coen] warming up before the game," said Brown.
"Thank God my wife came to the game. She's a longtime cardio nurse and she finally got the IV in him.
"Liam just showed up at the game, and obviously what he did today just adds to his legacy at UMass."
Jeromy Miles's interception on the game's second play gave the Minutemen an early break. Ten plays later, Coen flipped a 7-yard pass to Moore for a 7-0 edge.
Rancher easily outdistanced the Hofstra secondary and reeled in Coen's high-arcing toss for a 35-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead on the second play of the second quarter.
Moore's bobbled punt return and Ottis Lewis's recovery at the UMass 14 five minutes into the second gave the Pride their first scoring opportunity. But three plays gained just 4 yards and Hofstra settled for Rob Zarrilli's 27-yard field goal.
At 9:25 of the fourth, Moore snared a Coen bullet at the Pride 42 and outsprinted everyone down the right sideline for his second score.
Coen's 10-yarder to Jorgensen with 4:47 to play built the lead to 27-3, but Hofstra's Ken Sussman blocked the extra point and DeWayne Whitaker scooped it up and raced the length of the field for a rare defensive conversion and the Pride's final 2 points.
"We continued to improve all season long, we've made some great strides, and I'm proud of that," said Pride coach Dave Cohen, who engineered one of the nation's biggest turnarounds after a 2-9 campaign last fall, his first at the helm.
"But give all credit to UMass. I'm sure they'll play great in the playoffs."