– Steve Baylark ran for two touchdowns and Liam Coen passed for two TDs as the third-ranked University of Massachusetts football team fended off ninth-ranked University of New Hampshire to record a 28-20 Atlantic 10 victory Saturday afternoon at Cowell Stadium.
    UNH is 6-3 overall and 3-3 in Atlantic 10 while UMass, led defensively by Bill Knight Trophy recipient (game MVP in this annual battle) Jason Hatchell (18 tackles), improved to 8-1, 6-0.
    Baylark carried the ball 20 times for 89 yards and his TD runs of 38 yards (at 3:09 of the second quarter) and one yard (8:49; third) extended the Minutemen’s lead from 14-3 to 28-3. Coen finished the game 11 of 15 for 193 yards.
    Trailing 28-3 in the third quarter, the Wildcats began their comeback with a seven play, 83-yard drive that culminated with a 33-yard pass play from Ricky Santos (Bellingham, Mass.; 35-for-55, 383 yards, two TD) to David Ball (Orange, Vt.; eight catches, 107 yards) at 6:50. The score, which pulled the ‘Cats within 28-10, marked the 27th game in which Ball has recorded a TD reception and that total ranks second in Div. I-AA history.
    New Hampshire maintained momentum when a Brendan St. Peter (Marshfield, Mass.) sack forced UMass to punt, and a 20-yard punt return by Jeff Pammer (Northampton, Pa.) gave UNH possession at the UMass 46-yard line. Ten plays later, Tom Manning (Rome, N.Y.) connected on a 37-yard field goal attempt to trim the margin to 28-13 with eight seconds remaining in the third quarter.
    The Minutemen again were forced to punt – Coen took a knee on 3rd-and-1 when he thought New Hampshire would be whistled for offsides – and UNH began its next drive on its own 3-yard line. UMass forced the ‘Cats to a three-and-out, but a running into the kicker penalty resulted in a first down to extend the drive. The Wildcats capitalized and methodically marched downfield. On 4th-and-2 at the UMass 6. Santos eluded pressure and found Ball in the back of the end zone to lift UNH within 28-20 at 6:48 of the fourth quarter. The 19-play drive went 97 yards in 5:34.
    UNH’s defense held the visitors to a three-and-out and the ‘Cats regained possession on their 21 with 3:40 remaining. Santos’ pass completions to Keith LeVan (Waltham, Mass.; 12 catches, 115 yards) and Aaron Brown (Central Square, N.Y.) advanced the ball to the UNH 47, and the ‘Cats overcame 1st-and-20 on a 17-yard run by Santos, who was UNH’s leading rusher with 55 yards on 18 carries. A UMass personal foul on that run advanced the ball to the UM 21, then an 11-yard pass play from Santos to Ball gave the ‘Cats 1st-and-goal with 1:30 to play.
    Santos was stopped for a two-yard gain, then was forced to throw the ball away when the UMass secondary blanketed his receivers on 2nd down. Santos scrambled to his right and was tackled at the UM 3. The ‘Cats called time out on 4th-and-goal with :24 on the clock. Santos’ toss on the option play was batted out of the air by John Hatchell and a teammate fell on the ball on the 13-yard line to secure the victory.
    The Minutemen took a 7-0 lead at 2:18 of the first quarter when Coen found Rasheed Rancher in the front left corner of the end zone for an eight-yard pass play. That drive began on the UNH 49 after UMass stopped the Wildcats on a fake punt play.
    UMass’ Tim Washington blocked a punt to give his team possession at the UNH 17, and three plays later a 15-yard strike from Coen to J.J. Moore extended the visitor’s lead to 14-0 at 10:05 of the second quarter.
    Manning converted a 27-yard field goal attempt to lift the ‘Cats within 14-3 at 4:47, but UMass responded with a four-play, 66-yard drive capped by Baylark’s 38-yard run up the middle to make the score 21-3.
    The Minutemen took that 18-point advantage into halftime, and a 1-yard plunge by Baylark gave them a 28-3 lead at 8:49 of the third quarter.
    New Hampshire concludes the 2006 regular season with road games against Rhode Island (Nov. 11) and Maine (Nov. 18).
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