UMass 44, Stony Brook

UMass bands together

Stony Brook is drummed out

By Marty Dobrow
Globe Correspondent / September 27, 2009

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AMHERST - In September, the University of Massachusetts Minutemen took care of business. They held serve. They did what was expected of them - and perhaps a little bit more.

After last night’s convincing, if imperfect, 44-17 victory over Stony Brook before a season-high 16,122 fans (granted, quite a few were carrying tubas on Band Day), the Minutemen closed the season’s first month with a 3-1 record. After opening with the proverbial “good loss’’ on the road against Big 12 foe Kansas State (21-17), they reeled off a trio of emphatic home victories against lesser lights in the Football Championship Subdivision by a combined 118-34.

Offense, defense, and special teams have all played at a high level for first-year coach Kevin Morris.

Now the Minutemen gather themselves for a far more challenging October that will, in large measure, define them. None of the four teams UMass played in September entered play yesterday with a winning record; all four October foes did. Two of them are ranked in the FCS top 10, including top-ranked Richmond, the defending national champion. That game will be one of three October games on the road.

Suffice it to say that when the Minutemen return from Maine to don their costumes on the evening of Oct. 31, UMass will either be unmasked as a pretender in a tough league, or revealed as a team with legitimate championship aspirations.

“We’re doing well in all phases, but we have too many lapses that are setting ourselves up for disaster down the road, where all of a sudden it’s going to be a tight game,’’ said Morris. “That’s a stiff stretch. We need to be ready to go.’’

Definitely ready to go last night was sophomore tailback Jonathan Hernandez, who stepped in for sidelined starter Tony Nelson and delivered a career game. Hernandez rushed for 140 yards on 29 carries in his first career start, including touchdowns of 3, 9, and 36 yards.

Nelson, sidelined with what was termed an “upper-body injury,’’ was a game-time decision, according to Morris, though the incumbent told his roommate, Hernandez, the night before. “He kind of told me in the room: ‘I’m a little nicked up. I don’t think I’m going to go. Just be ready. Just do your job.’ And that’s what I did.’’

UMass also got two touchdown runs from Chris Zardas (from 3 and 4 yards) as part of 500 yards of total offense.

Quarterback Kyle Havens (12 of 24 for 259 yards) had some great throws, but made a couple of bad decisions as well, resulting in two interceptions. Those led to a surprising start for Stony Brook (1-3), which held a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter, and trailed by just, 24-17, at halftime.

The Minutemen’s defense shut the doors after the various marching bands stormed the field.

“We started out a little slow,’’ said linebacker Tyler Holmes. “Stony Brook came out of the gates ready to go. We just settled down and started hitting the gaps, and playing as a whole unit.’’

The Minutemen also got big contributions from kicker Armando Cuko (3 for 3 on field goals) and wide receiver Jeremy Horne (five catches for 124 yards).

“This week I was determined to just do something,’’ said Horne. “I didn’t really have the games I thought I was going to have earlier in the season.’’

Stony Brook quarterback Michael Coulter (14 of 23 for 126 yards with two touchdowns and one interception) kept the Seawolves in the game.

After this week’s bye, UMass travels to play Delaware.