In a season that has already seen more than its fair share of disappointment, Army was stunned by a one-win UMass in a loss that left coach Jeff Monken struggling for words to explain.
The defeat was Army’s fifth straight, dropping the Black Knights to 2-6 on the season, with a trip to Denver next Saturday against undefeated and No. 19-ranked Air Force on tap.
But, it was the way the Black Knights lost the game to UMass that might sting more than the defeat itself. Army was intercepted in the end zone twice, ending promising drives. That included a puzzling 4th-and-2 play on the UMass 7-yard line in the third quarter where Army’s coaches decided to forego a run to try a pass that was intercepted in the end zone.
Quinn Maretzki also missed a 49-yard field goal in the first quarter and punter Cooper Allancshanked his only punt attempt of the game for just a 2-yard gain.
Army’s defense also made the Minutemen’s Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams look like a Heisman Trophy candidate. Lynch-Adams rushed for a career-high 234 yards and scored all three of UMass’ touchdowns, the first one a 34-yard scamper less than four minutes into the contest. UMass quarterback Taisun Phommachanh was 17-for-23 for 121 yards.
In fact, UMass came out of this game looking much better than they did entering the contest. The Minutemen were giving up more than 37 points per game to their competition in their first eight games of the season and they entered the contest with just one victory (over New Mexico State to start this season) against a FBS team in their last 39 games. The win over New Mexico State was also UMass’ first victory on the road in 28 attempts.
“It is hard to put into words,” Monken said. “Just all of it. That was a team that we beat 44-7 a year ago. They ran the ball on us, we did not do a good job against the run, playing blocks, we missed a lot of tackles, could not move the ball consistently or run the ball against them.
“I can’t describe the disappointment I am feeling. I cannot put it into words. We have the biggest game of the year, to this point, coming up next week. We’re going to refocus and get ready for that one. I am going to do that myself the best I can.”
While Monken said that poor fundamentals again played a role in Army’s defeat, he also suggested that play calling by the coaching staff, including himself, also played a huge role in the loss.
“We have to look at all of it,” he said. “What we are calling. The personnel we have in on particular plays and the execution of the fundamentals. That’s coaching and playing and we have to do it a lot better.”
Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that Army’s offense continues to struggle. After being shutout on consecutive weekends by Troy and LSU, the Black Knights did not score until there was just over two minutes left in the first half, which amounted to 159 minutes of no scores since their last touchdown against Boston College three weeks ago, when quarterback Bryson Daily pushed into the end zone from two yards out. Daily, who was injured in the Troy game and missed the LSU contest, was inserted Saturday on Army’s third possession.
In the third quarter, a fake punt and run by Allan was stopped by the Minutemen, giving UMass the ball on the Army 30-yard line. Six plays later, Lynch-Adams scored his third score, a 3-yard dive, to put UMass ahead 21-7.
Freshman Champ Harris, who started at quarterback for Daily, came back in to relieve Daily in the fourth quarter. He scored Army’s second touchdown on a 36-yard run with 5:01 left in the game to close the gap to 21-14, but Army failed to get the ball back until the waning moments of the contest.
“I am just heartbroken,” said Harris. “All the guys in the locker room are too. We have to get focused this week, but we are all heartbroken right now. It was right there, but it slipped through our hands. I know we are going to use this as motivation this week against Air Force.”
Austin Hill, a senior co-captain and defensive lineman, says the team remains focused and will be ready for Air Force in Army’s first leg of the Commander-in-Chief Trophy competition.
“We don’t need a loss to be motivated for Air Force,” he said. “But as Champ says, there is a hunger on our team. I am proud of the guys. The attitude is there, practicing harder than we have been all year, hungry to win. We are not executing well enough. (Against) Air Force we don’t need any more motivation. Everything is on the line, we are going to come back tomorrow and go back to work.”