David S. Driver
"Providing my byline by your deadline"
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October 30, 2010
By David Driver
For the Springfield Republican
Used with permission
HARRISONBURG, Va. – Anthony Nelson came to life just in time for UMass on Saturday in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley on a nippy day. And his late-game heroics may have saved the season for the Minutemen, who came back to beat James Madison, 21-14, after trailing by 11 points at halftime.
Nelson’s first catch of the day came on fourth-and-8 from the JMU 28 late in the third quarter. He made the catch on the sidelines between two defenders and the play of 19 yards gave the Minutemen a first down at the JMU 9. But the drive stalled and Caleb Violette made a 25-yard field goal with 3:04 left in the third quarter to cut the JMU lead to 14-6.
In his first punt return of the season, Nelson went 53 yards later in the third quarter to give UMass a first down at the JMU 17.
“We needed a spark,” said UMass head coach Kevin Morris. “That was the spark we needed to finish this game off for us.”
A few plays after the punt return, quarterback Kyle Havens threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Julian Talley to make it 14-12, and Havens’ pass to Dan Sheeran on a two-point conversion tied the game at 14. The visitors had failed on their first four two-point conversions this year, all on passes.
When UMass got the ball back at the JMU 48, the running of Jonathan Hernandez (145 yards) set up a 1-yard TD pass from Havens to Andrew Krevis for the game-winning score.
Nelson, filling in for regular returner Talley, pointed out the huge block by teammate Woody Carter IV on his punt return.
“If he goes down I have to be ready,” Nelson said of Talley. “I have always been prepared for that. It has always been scripted if he goes down I will go in. He came up to me and said it is your time to go in. At first I thought it was going to be a regular return, like 10 yards. Then Woody Carter came out of nowhere.”
No. 18 UMass (5-3, 3-2) broke a two-game losing streak and kept its post-season hopes alive against the No. 15 Dukes (4-4, 1-4), which lost for the third straight time.
“It brings life to us,” said Hernandez. It was the fourth comeback win for the Minutemen this season.
Havens completed 15 of 19 passes for 163 yards and two scores.
“It was a sense of urgency all week in practice for us,” Havens said. “At halftime we were calm. We didn’t want to look at it as a playoff game but it was. This group of guys loves playing together and we didn’t want to play just three more games” after facing JMU.
JMU took a 14-3 lead in the first half behind quarterback Drew Duzik, who ran for 98 yards and threw for 179 more. But JMU head coach Mickey Matthews said he was not resting easy at halftime.
“I thought the three (UMass points) was kind of a mirage at the half. It is not like we stopped them a lot in the first half,” he said.
He turned out to be right. UMass held JMU to 127 total yards in the second half after giving up 232 in the first half. All-CAA linebacker Tyler Holmes, who grew up about two hours away in Blacksburg, Va., had 14 tackles for UMass and made a big sack on the Dukes’ last drive.
“It was a great call. The coach made a great call and I made it,” Holmes said.
UMass took a 3-0 lead on a field goal by Violette, from Blacksburg (Va.) High, from 33 yards out with 3:05 left in the first quarter. The kick came one play after a pass intended for Talley bounced off his hands and straight up into the air. Two JMU defenders were in position to make an interception but the ball fell incomplete.
JMU quarterback Dudzik had a 38-yard run in the fourth quarter to give the Dukes the ball at the UMass 19. The Dukes got a first down on fourth-and-one at the UMass 10. Two plays later running back Jamal Sullivan scored on an 8-yard run and the PAT gave JMU a 7-3 lead with7:28 left in the first half. JMU took a 14-3 lead with 4:15 left in the first half on a 2-yard run by Sullivan.
UMass wideout Nelson, who had a career-high 11 catches last week against New Hampshire, did not have a catch in the first half and finished with two against JMU. But that was enough as UMass kept its playoff hopes alive.
NOTES: Bill Sisler, the video coordinator for UMass, is a JMU graduate ... UMass senior redshirt center John Ihne left the field on the first play of the game after he suffered a separated left shoulder, according to a school spokesman. He was replaced by Quinton Sales, a redshirt sophomore. “He knows this offense inside and out,” Morris said of Ihne. “Quinton came in and did a great job.” ... UMass hosts Maine on Nov. 6.