AMHERST — Randall Jette has one more opportunity for a home win this season.
On Friday at Gillette Stadium, the redshirt freshman and his University of Massachusetts teammates will close out the 2012 campaign against Central Michigan (5-6, 3-4 Mid-American Conference).
For Jette and the Minutemen (1-10, 1-6), the game will mark the conclusion of their first season in Football Bowl Subdivision play.
Jette and his freshman classmates, however, have three more seasons of eligibility. Not so for Jette’s older teammates, including senior Darren Thellen, one of his companions in the secondary.
“We haven’t gotten a win at home yet,” said Jette. “Our seniors are out here playing their hearts out. This is their last chance. Hopefully, if I stay healthy, I’ve got many opportunities.
“We’re a very unselfish team. We’re all going to try to play our best for the seniors.”
A one-win season has been UMass’s gift for its transition to FBS competition. Youngsters like Jette, however, offer hope for continued development, and hopefully more success in future seasons.
In last Saturday’s 29-19 home loss to Buffalo, Jette was one of three freshmen starting in the UMass secondary (cornerback Trey Dudley-Giles and safety Joe Colton were the others). Given how Jette has performed this season, coach Charley Molnar projects the former Martha’s Vineyard Regional High standout to be even better as he progresses.
“He’s young, that’s the great thing,” Molnar said. “He’s going to be so much better a year from now than he is right now.”
Jette enters Friday’s season finale with interceptions in his last two games. In UMass’s 22-14 win over Akron Nov. 10, Jette picked off Dalton Williams in the second quarter. On the ensuing drive, Blake Lucas kicked a 26-yard field goal to give the Minutemen a 6-0 lead. Jette also posted five tackles in the win.
Last Saturday against Buffalo, with UMass up, 13-0, in the third quarter, quarterback Mike Wegzyn threw an interception to Okoye Houston, giving the Bulls the ball at the Minuteman 29.
Two plays later, wide receiver Alex Neutz shook off Jette at the line of scrimmage and found space in the end zone. Quarterback Joe Licata spotted Neutz and sent the ball his way.
Neutz should have caught the ball to give Buffalo its first touchdown. But Jette dashed toward the receiver and intercepted the pass to keep the Bulls off the scoreboard.
“The interception was really big,” Molnar said. “We had just gave them a gift and a short field. Man oh man, you don’t want them to gain momentum. By him getting that interception, at least that kind of staved off their momentum, at least for another series or so.”
In the fourth quarter, Jette made another timely play. Buffalo had rallied to claim a 22-19 lead. UMass’s Colter Johnson punted a ball that Cordero Dixon appeared to field. As soon as Dixon took a step, Jette slammed into the punt returner and bumped the ball free. The ball dribbled out of bounds through the end zone for a touchback.
Replays showed that Dixon did not have possession when Jette caused him to muff the punt. If Dixon had possession of the ball and coughed it up, UMass would have recorded a safety. Jette couldn’t tell whether Dixon fielded the ball cleanly.
“Just doing our assignments,” Jette said. “Everybody got down the field. Everybody was in the right spot, so I was able to make the play.”
Jette and his defensive teammates should be busy against Central Michigan. The Chippewas are 3-1 in their last four games. In Central Michigan’s 30-16 win over Miami of Ohio last Saturday, quarterback Ryan Radcliff completed 13 of 23 passes for 202 yards and one touchdown.
Running back Zurlon Tipton rumbled for 113 yards on 24 carries. The 6-foot-1-inch, 219-pound Tipton has rushed for 100-plus yards in five straight games.
Last Saturday, Buffalo’s Rashad Jean (6 feet, 246 pounds) rushed 17 times for 73 yards. Buffalo converted 6 of 7 third-down opportunities in the second half as Jean, Brandon Murie (90 yards on 16 carries), and the Bulls chipped away at the UMass defense.
“They have a gigantic offensive line, and he is an NFL-looking running back,” Molnar said of Tipton and his blockers. “They run an NFL-style offense. He’s perfect for their style. We were worn down, in my opinion, at the end of the game last week against Buffalo.
“I’m not blind to the fact that I’m sure Central is going to try to do the same thing — give him a lot of carries and try to wear us down into the fourth quarter.”
To counter Central Michigan’s attack, Molnar is relying on his offense to give the defense a break. Backup quarterback A.J. Doyle will start for the first time this season. Doyle, a freshman from Lakeville and a Catholic Memorial graduate, has made seven appearances in relief of Wegzyn. Doyle has completed 26 of 53 passes while throwing one touchdown and five interceptions.
Wegzyn was 20 for 40 for 215 yards against Buffalo. He threw one touchdown and one interception, and was sacked eight times.
Offensive lineman Anthony Dima, missing against Buffalo because of an upper-body injury, should be back Friday.