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JMU 34, UMass 17

Minutemen bid farewell to the FCS

After loss, next step is upward

Dae’Quan Scott lugged the ball 30 times for James Madison, piling up 251 yards and two touchdowns against UMass. Dae’Quan Scott lugged the ball 30 times for James Madison, piling up 251 yards and two touchdowns against UMass. (Nancy Palmieri/Associated Press)
By Jeff Wagenheim
Globe Correspondent / November 20, 2011

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AMHERST - As goodbyes go, it didn’t reach quite the dramatic crescendo of Bogart and Bergman. The University of Massachusetts was playing its final game in the Football Championship Subdivision. The Mid-American Conference-bound Minutemen also were taking the field at McGuirk Stadium, their home since 1965, for the last time for the foreseeable future.

If that added up a tearful farewell for UMass fans, compounding the discontent was a lackluster performance by the Minutemen, who fell behind early and showed barely a hint of the energy needed to catch up in a 34-17 loss to James Madison yesterday before a small crowd announced at a generous 7,103.

“Any loss is frustrating,’’ said tight end Emil Igwenagu (two catches, 19 yards). “But we know what we can do, and not being able to come out and showcase it on game day was really frustrating.’’

UMass (5-6, 3-5 against Colonial Athletic Association opponents) fell behind by two touchdowns before the game was seven minutes old. A three-and-out on the game’s first possession, followed by a 26-yard punt, gave James Madison (7-4, 5-3 CAA) the ball at the UMass 48, and the Dukes needed just six plays - all on the ground - to get into the end zone.

Dae’Quan Scott (30 carries for a career-high 251 yards) gained 22 on the first play, 35 on the drive. But it was Jordan Anderson (20 carries, 81 yards) who carried the ball across the line from the 1 for the opening score.

Five plays later, it was 14-0. UMass quarterback Kellen Pagel, who had sat out the last two weeks with a concussion, was intercepted at his 44 by safety Mike Allen, who took it to the house.

James Madison became emboldened in its commitment to making UMass a one-dimensional passing offense. The Dukes swarmed the home team’s top weapon, tailback Jonathan Hernandez, holding him to 47 yards on 15 carries. The senior finished the season with 1,092 rushing yards. He had 2,627 yards for his career.

The big gainer of the half for UMass came on special teams, when a Raymond Pendagast punt hit a James Madison player and was recovered by Ryan Carter at the Dukes’ 20. UMass moved to the 3 but was held to a field goal.

James Madison answered with a field goal, then added another touchdown, on an 18-yard Scott run following an 18-yard carry by Anderson, to make it 24-3, and that was the score at halftime.

UMass, to its credit, came out of the locker room with a little oomph. After the defense forced a three-and out, the offense struck quickly. On the first play, Pagel (20 of 36, 236 yards, 1 TD, 2 interceptions) stood coolly in the face of a blitz and tossed a screen to Hernandez, who chugged down the sideline 53 yards to the 11. Alan Williams took it in from there, untouched, for his first collegiate touchdown. It took UMass just 17 seconds to pull within two scores.

James Madison couldn’t match that quick strike, but it came close. It took the Dukes a full 22 seconds to regain their three-touchdown margin. On the first play following a 24-yard kickoff return, Scott went 76 yards down the left sideline.

“We got a little momentum,’’ said Igwenagu, “and then that was a backbreaker.’’

The Minutemen narrowed the gap to 14 again on a 9-yard connection between Pagel and tight end Rob Blanchflower midway through the third, but they were unable to make the big plays needed to draw any closer.

After pinning James Madison at its 2, they allowed quarterback Justin Thorpe to hit tight end Brian Barlow on third down - one of only four completions by Thorpe on the day - to keep the ball in the Dukes’ hands. James Madison ended up consuming 77 yards and more than seven minutes before adding a field goal to make it 34-17.

That’s how it ended. After 253 games at McGuirk Stadium, including a Division 1-AA national championship season (1998), UMass is moving on. The next home game is Sept. 8, 2012 against Indiana of the Big Ten . . . 92 miles from campus, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.