AMHERST, Mass. — Liberty defense’s inability to get off the field when UMass faced a third- or fourth-and-long in the fourth quarter came back to haunt the Flames Saturday night at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
The Minutemen erased a two-touchdown deficit in the final seven minutes of regulation by converting on a pair of crucial fourth downs to force overtime, and Cooper Garcia’s 22-yard field goal in the third overtime lifted the Minutemen to a thrilling 62-59 victory.
“It was definitely tough just knowing that we left plays on the field that shouldn’t have been converted,” Liberty defensive end Jessie Lemonier said. “There were times … they converted on third-and-long, and that’s something we can’t afford. That’s big plays right there.”
UMass (4-6) trailed 45-31 following Frank Boyd’s 4-yard touchdown run with 11:01 remaining.
The Minutemen converted on fourth down three times over the next two drives — twice gaining more than 10 yards on third down to make the fourth-down calls manageable — and tied the game with 25 seconds remaining on Marquis Young’s 9-yard run.
“It’s extremely frustrating, because we know we’re a better defense and we know we’re capable of getting off the field on third down,” Liberty linebacker Solomon Ajayi said.
The Flames (4-4) and Minutemen exchanged touchdowns in the first two overtimes. However, the final turnover in a game that featured 1,265 yards of total offense decided the outcome.
UMass linebacker Jarell Addo intercepted a pass intended for Liberty wide receiver DJ Stubbs in the end zone, and the Minutemen methodically drove the ball to the 6-yard line to set up Garcia’s game-winning attempt.
“I’m going to take this responsibility on me. I’ve got to coach better,” Liberty coach Turner Gill said. “There are some things that we could have done a little bit better on my part. Some calls and different things of that nature.”
The Minutemen racked up 777 yards of total offense. Seven hundred yards came in regulation to easily surpass the most yards surrendered by Liberty in a single game.
The previous high was 680 by Central State (Ohio) in 1983.
Comis, making his second straight start at quarterback for UMass, threw for 540 yards and four touchdowns on 29-of-44 passing. His favorite target was Andy Isabella, who caught nine passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns.
“They were really doing good jobs at max protecting and sliding. He just found little pockets and threw it,” Lemonier said of Comis. “The receiver No. 5 [Isabella], he did a really good job today of basically getting open.”
Comis’ passing yards and Isabella’s receiving yards were the most allowed by a Liberty defense in a single game.
“We just have to look internally and just ask ourselves, what do we want to play like? How bad do we want it?” Lemonier said. “It goes back to that.”
The Flames had an opportunity to seal the win before overtime. A snap that sailed over quarterback Buckshot Calvert’s head on third-and-two forced a punt and gave UMass the ball back with 2:46 remaining in regulation.
The Minutemen converted on fourth-and-4, then punched it in on Young’s touchdown to send it to overtime.
“No doubt about it, the snap put us in a bad situation where they didn’t even have a chance to see if we were going to be able to compete to have a conversion on that third down,” Gill said.
Calvert threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-35 passing. He threw a career-high four interceptions.
Antonio Gandy-Golden caught nine passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns, and Frankie Hickson rushed for 133 yards and two scores on 27 attempts.
“All of us as a staff, myself and coaches, we have to coach better and prevent some things from happening,” Gill said. “There were some good things that happened today, no question about that, on offense, on defense, special teams, and so on and so forth. We just didn’t make enough plays, and [UMass] earned the win.”