FOXBOROUGH — University of Massachusetts coach Charley Molnar said last week that if the Minutemen continued to work hard and build on the positives, they would eventually achieve a measure of success.
On Saturday, in a battle between winless teams, UMass broke into the victory column, beating Miami University, 17-10, in front of 21,707 at Gillette Stadium.
“I saw a football team that really represents what we’re all about right now,’’ said Molnar. “A team that plays very, very hard, a team that never quits, and a team that is for the most part disciplined and a tough group of guys. Those are the characteristics we’ve been working to develop since the very first day I showed up. Some days you can see it and some days you can’t but I thought today was representative of what we were trying to achieve.’’
After Miami’s initial drive stalled out, the Minutemen (1-5, 1-1 Mid-American) started at their 43-yard line and made a strong push.
Quarterback A.J. Doyle found Jamal Wilson on a 13-yard pass. After a 3-yard keeper, Doyle threw another pass to Wilson for a gain of 9.
Wilson followed with a 12-yard carry for a first down, putting UMass at the Miami 20.
Doyle scrambled up the sideline and out of bounds for a gain of 9. Wilson fought his way to the 6, but on the next play, Doyle’s throw to Elgin Long was off the mark and defensive back Heath Harding picked off the pass at the 1.
Miami (0-6, 0-2) continued to sputter on offense but the RedHawks thought they caught a break when UMass’s Trey Dudley-Giles appeared to have fumbled away a punt return.
But UMass challenged the ruling on the field. After a review, it was ruled that Giles’s elbow was down before the fumble, giving UMass a first down at its 45.
That turned the tide in the Minutemen’s favor.
Doyle connected with Rob Blanchflower for 11 yards to the Miami 44. Doyle kept the ball the next two plays, advancing to the 36.
Stacy Bedell lost 2 yards on the ensuing play but made up for that with rushes of 10 and 4 yards to the 22.
After two incompletions, Doyle threaded the ball to Long and the Minutemen went up, 7-0, on Long’s first career receiving touchdown.
The RedHawks rallied to tie it on the first drive of the second quarter. Starting from the Miami 36, quarterback Austin Boucher pushed the offense to the UMass 15, completing passes of 13 and 10 yards to Jared Murphy.
Boucher finished the drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Steve Marck.
Miami threatened again later in the quarter but the drive was thwarted by Khary Bailey-Smith, who intercepted a pass in the end zone intended for Dawan Scott. It was Bailey-Smith’s third career interception and first of the season.
The RedHawks took their first lead with 8:09 remaining in the third. The 54-yard, 12-play drive resulted in a 45-yard field goal by Kaleb Patterson. It was the longest field goal of the season for Patterson and it put Miami on top, 10-7.
But a fortuitous bounce put UMass back in front.
With 3:17 left in the third, Doyle launched a pass that was deflected by cornerback Dayonne Nunley. The ball bounced right into the hands of Blanchflower, who was in stride. He charged down the field and into the end zone for a 47-yard touchdown, his first of the season.
“I think I’ve just got to thank the man upstairs for that one, it landed right in my bread basket. I think it was more luck than skill,’’ said Blanchflower, who had 98 yards on five receptions and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for his career. “I’m just so happy for the team and the university and all our loyal fans. They deserve a win.’’
Ahead, 14-10, UMass kept the pressure on at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Bailey-Smith intercepted a Boucher pass with 14:32 left and raced from the UMass 48 to Miami’s 26.
But the drive soon stalled and Blake Lucas converted a 25-yard field goal to make it 17-10 with 11:49 remaining.
Devin Brown sealed the deal with 6:34 left when he picked off Boucher, giving UMass possession at its 45.
Although the Minutemen didn’t convert the turnover into points — Lucas’s 44-yard field goal attempt failed — they ground down the clock in effective fashion and snuffed out Miami’s final drive.
Blanchflower said he didn’t dare celebrate until the clock was at all zeroes. After that, for the first time this year, the Minutemen were looking forward to the bus ride back to Amherst.
“We’re partying the whole way back,’’ he said. “It’s pure silence every other week so when we can, we’re going to be as loud as we can be.’’