Massachusetts wide receiver Elgin Long (16) celebrates his touchdown catch with wide receiver Tajae Sharpe, left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Miami Ohio in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, University of Massachusetts redshirt sophomore Elgin Long stood on a table behind the UMass bench and conducted the crowd cheers behind him.
Nearby coach Charley Molnar wiped the sticky liquid from his Powerade dousing off his face as he pumped his fist in celebration.
A game between two winless Mid-American Conference teams won’t get much attention nationally, but at Gillette Stadium, the Minutemen celebrated Saturday’s 17-10 win over Miami (Ohio) like they’d clinched a conference title or bowl eligibility.
The effort was far from flawless. UMass had two turnovers in the end zone and a few ill-advised penalties, but all of that was washed away by getting in the win column.
Not many games have quite the canyon between the implications of a win and a loss.
A loss would have been brutal. UMass was actually favored, according to Las Vegas, over a RedHawk team that fired its coach a week ago.
Wins have been hard to come by for UMass in the last season and a half. Beating anybody is cause for celebration. After they lost to Maine earlier this season, a lot of people thought a winless season might be possible. Beating a conference opponent that beat them last year and finally breaking their forever-long losing streak at Gillette in front of their biggest home crowd in two years was plenty cause for celebration.
So the Minutemen soaked it in. Brandon Potvin and Tom Brandt doused Molnar moments before the game ended. Players shared aerial chest bumps while administrators, players, coaches and cheerleaders mingled and hugged.
“We needed it and we wanted it real bad,” said sophomore safety Khary Bailey-Smith, whose two interceptions made the win possible. “We went out there and tried to get what we thought we deserved.”
Molnar hoped experiencing victory would make his team hungry for more.
“The progression of a football team never ends. I would think our football team would progress after a win or a loss,” he said. “But when you experience victory, why wouldn’t you want to get one again. Why wouldn’t you do the same amount of work or more to get that feeling.”
Next week wasn’t on the players’ radars yet.
After singing the UMass fight song standing in front of the band, the players did a victory lap, high-fiving front-row fans.
“It feels great,” tight end Rob Blanchflower said. “I’m just so happy for the team and the university and all our loyal fans, who’ve been with us. They deserve a win.”
In the postgame press conference, A.J. Doyle was asked what the previous bus rides back to Amherst had been like and what this postgame one would be like.
“Quiet,” Doyle said to the first part of the question and before he could answer the second part, Blanchflower jumped in.
“We’re partying the whole way back,” Blanchflower said smiling. “It’s been pure silence every other week. When we can, we’re going to be as loud as we can be.”
Bailey-Smith had a mischievous grin and added, “I just hope the bus doesn’t tip over.”