FOXBOROUGH — Trailing by a point with 22 seconds remaining, University of Massachusetts head coach Charley Molnar was faced with a decision: Take the conventional path and kick the extra point to force overtime, or attempt the 2-point conversion and chase the victory.
Molnar chose the latter, and it was a costly mistake Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
Quarterback A.J. Doyle rolled to his right out of the shotgun and spotted Elgin Long racing across the back of the end zone. Long, for at least a moment, was open. But Doyle’s pass sailed high, carelessly floating through the back of the end zone, ending any chance of late-game heroics for the Minutemen as they fell to Western Michigan 31-30.
The 2-point play “was obviously my decision,” Molnar said. “We felt like if we went into an overtime situation, we would get potentially into a kicking battle. Obviously, our kicking game isn’t the best at this moment of time.”
UMass kicker Blake Lucas missed two field goals on the day, including a 22-yard attempt with 14 minutes, 17 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter which would have given the Minutemen a 27-24 lead.
“You kind of hear it all year long where if it’s a close game, we don’t have anything to lose, why not go for two, get the win,” Doyle said.
With 4:55 remaining in the game, Doyle took over at his own 32-yard line with UMass trailing 31-24. Behind Lorenzo Woodley, who accounted for 38 yards rushing on the drive, the offense drove to the Broncos 6-yard line. On fourth-and-1, Doyle called his own number, rushing for 4 yards. Woodley followed on the next play with a 2-yard touchdown run.
“This was probably (Woodley’s) best week of practice since summer camp,” Molnar said. “I can’t tell you if he’s 100 percent (healthy), but he’s well enough where he can start to show his skills.”
The offense answered a Western Michigan scoring drive which took just 1:21 to develop. On third-and-11, Broncos quarterback Zack Terrell found receiver Corey Davis streaking over the middle on a slant for a 54-yard touchdown pass. The Minutemen blitzed on the play, allowing ample space over the middle of the field.
“As a defense, we wish we could’ve affected the outcome and it would of been in our hands,” said linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox, who had four tackles and a half sack. “We trusted the offense would go down and score, it’s just tough.”
The 30 points scored by UMass is the most since Molnar took over before the 2012 season.
Rob Blanchflower caught seven passes for a career-high 131 yards and a touchdown, leaving him just 14 yards shy of the UMass tight end career receiving record held by Milt Morin. It was Blanchflower’s 6-yard touchdown reception with just under nine minutes remaining in the second quarter that gave the Minutemen a 21-10 lead.
But the offense stalled and failed to generate any success for long stretches of the second half, a common theme throughout the season.
The Broncos worked their way back into the game and took a 24-21 lead just 3:01 into the second on a 14-yard touchdown pass to Davis. The freshman receiver had 10 catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
UMass opened its homecoming game with a flare, as Khary Bailey-Smith returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. It was the first touchdown of his career.
The loss stung especially hard for Blanchflower, who has never won on homecoming.
“It hurts a lot,” he said. “I really wanted this one. If I was calling the plays I would’ve went for two, because the amount of energy we had as an offense and the way we were moving the ball, it was in the cards for us. I didn’t have a doubt in my mind we would win the game, it just didn’t turn out that way.”
Despite not winning a game before Saturday, Molnar had high regards for Western Michigan’s play.
“If you look at them, that is a pretty good football team,” he said. “I am embarrassed right now as I sit here because any time we lose, I am embarrassed.”