Coverage from:
December 19
The Associated Press
The Associated Press -- column
December 20
The Daily Hampshire Gazette
The Chattanooga (TN) Free Press
The Boston Globe
The Boston Globe -- column
The Boston Globe -- Local celebration
The Boston Globe -- Record-breaking offense
The Macon (GA) Telegraph
The Macon (GA) Telegraph -- column
The Macon (GA) Telegraph -- Hill sets the wrong record
The Macon (GA) Telegraph -- notebook
The Savannah (GA) Morning News
The Savannah (GA) Morning News -- column
December 21
The Boston Globe -- Whipple turned it around
The Boston Globe -- UMass finally the state's best
The Boston Globe -- The celebration is on
The Springfield Union-News -- Hard work pays off
The Boston Herald -- Minutemen wanted it more
The Daily Hampshire Gazette
The Daily Hampshire Gazette -- First championship in 17 years
The Daily Hampshire Gazette -- Fans greet returning champs
The Daily Hampshire Gazette -- UMass faithful get wanted gift
The Daily Hampshire Gazette -- A record-breaking season

Box score


UMass wins first I-AA title
From The Associated Press, 12/19/1998

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Don't call the Massachusetts Minutemen losers anymore. Try national champions.

Photo
MassLive graphic
Marcel Shipp rushed for three touchdowns and a record 244 yards as 11th-seeded Massachusetts upset top-ranked Georgia Southern (official and fan sites) 55-43 for its first Division I-AA championship Saturday.

The victory capped an amazing turnaround for the Minutemen (12-3) who rebounded from a 2-9 record in 1997 by winning more games than any other team in school history.

"This is just unreal," quarterback Todd Bankhead said. "I can't describe this season in words. ... This is just incredible."

Nobody had given the Minutemen a chance against Georgia Southern (14-1), a four-time national champion looking for its first title since 1990. First-year coach Mark Whipple said his Minutemen heard the talk and decided to do something about it.

"They just wanted it more than anyone else in the country," Whipple said.

Video from ESPN.com:

UMass' Adrian Zullo hauls in the TD pass off of the fullback option.
614k AVI
QuickTime
Massachusetts completed a magical season by forcing Georgia Southern into seven turnovers, which the Minutemen converted into 31 points. Six of the turnovers were fumbles, a title-game record.

Georgia Southern coach Paul Johnson said there was nothing magical about how the Minutemen beat his team. He pointed to a very opportunistic defense that grabbed its chances against an offense that outgained Massachusetts 595 yards to 462.

"We dug ourselves such a hole that we could not climb out of it," he said.

"Everything I knew couldn't happen today happened. We couldn't let them rush. They had 303 yards. We could have no turnovers, and we turned it over seven times."

By the time it was over, Massachusetts set a title game record for points and the teams, two of the top three offenses in Division I-AA, combined for the most points ever in a title game. The 98 points topped the 86 scored in 1985 by Georgia Southern and Furman.

"Fifty-five's more than 43," Johnson said when asked if he appreciated the exciting game. "If it's 6-3, 50-49, it doesn't matter. We got beat."

Massachusetts jumped on the Eagles quickly, forcing a record four fumbles in the first quarter. The Minutemen never trailed after driving 67 yards in the first two minutes for a 7-0 lead.

Georgia Southern had won its other three playoff games by at least 20 points but never looked comfortable Saturday.

Kole Ayi picked up Greg Hill's fumble on the Eagles' second possession and returned it 9 yards for a TD and a 14-0 lead. Ayi recovered another fumble three minutes later on the Eagles 7, and the Minutemen scored a play later as Jamie Holston hit Adrian Zullo for a TD and a 21-7 lead.

Georgia Southern, which had been looking for its first national title since 1990 and fifth overall, didn't give up despite trailing 38-21 at halftime.

The Eagles held Massachusetts scoreless in the third quarter and kept the ball for most of the quarter in closing to 38-33 on TD runs by Adrian Peterson and Hill. But their final turnover, a fumble by Hill with 13:30 left, set up Shipp's third TD.

"They drove the ball all the way down and just broke our backs," end Eric Davis said.

Photo
Offensive lineman Cliff Bolden celebrates. AP photo


UMass savors national championship
From The Associated Press, 12/19/1998

AMHERST, Massachusetts -- UMass football fans crowded into Rafters bar cheered themselves hoarse on Saturday as they watched their Minutemen complete an amazing upset.

These were the fans of the underdog -- a Division I-AA team known more for mediocrity than winning big games. But when it was over in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the University of Massachusetts walked away with a 55-43 win over top-ranked Georgia Southern and a national championship.

"This year has just surpassed any expectation we could have had," said Mike Morini, a graduate student of business at UMass-Amherst and one of the faithful who last year cheered the Minutemen through their 2-9 season. "People would go to the game if they had nothing better to do on a nice day. On a poor day you wouldn't get that much attendance."

Dave LePage, a recent UMass graduate who lives in Northhampton, said the tavern crowd gathered early for Saturday's game, but was forced to listen to the first quarter on the radio because a basketball game had pre-empted television coverage.

But it dampened no one's spirits. Toward the end of the game, LePage said, the crowd shouted as if they were in the stadium, "Here we go U-Mass, Here we go!"

"You could look around the bar and just see smiles on everybody's face," he said. "They didn't know what to think of it."

At the Mullins Center, students and staff preparing for the men's basketball game against Detroit basked in the win.

"You have to think back about what they have done and how they did it to win a national championship," UMass basketball coach Bruiser Flint said. "Everybody in the school should be proud."

Former UMass basketball coach Jack Leaman joked that the football team had outscored the basketball team in its latest game. It was actually a tie; the Minutemen scored 55 points in their Tuesday loss to Villanova.

Dennis Toney, ticket manager for the university, said the win would likely boost interest in other university sports -- a prediction that might have drawn laughs a couple of years ago.

"In the two years previous that I've been here, football has been sort of a non-event until this year," he said.

Photo
Marcel Shipp rushed for 3 touchdowns and 244 yards. AP photo


UMass is No. 1, 55-43!!!!
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 12/20/1998

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - The University of Massachusetts took a big lead early and withstood a late charge by Georgia Southern as the 11th-seeded Minutemen upset the No. 1 and previously undefeated Eagles to win the program's first Division 1-AA national championship, 55-43, Saturday.

The clock never struck midnight on UMass' Cinderella story as the Minutemen (12-3) completed one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of college sports going from 2-9 a year ago to the title.

After the game players hugged the coaches, each other, and their mothers. And when they were done with that, they hugged each other's mothers, all the while pointing index fingers skyward, the symbol of No. 1.

Photo
MassLive graphic
"This is unbelievable," said junior quarterback Todd Bankhead. "I can't even describe this season and the guys here and the way things have come together. It's by far the tightest team I've ever been a part of. It's incredible."

The title is UMass' first in any team sport since 1981, when the women's lacrosse team won the championship under coach Pam Hixon.

After leading by 24 points (38-14) late in the second quarter, UMass surrendered 19 straight points and it appeared as if the favored Eagles might take over the game as they trailed by just 38-33.

But the Minutemen answered with a 72-yard drive capped by a two-yard touchdown by Kevin Quinlan to jump ahead 45-33. Georgia Southern never got any closer.

"I was proud of how the kids came out and played," said UMass coach Mark Whipple. "We were aggressive and we were able to run the ball well."

Marcel Shipp led the Minutemen with 35 carries for 251 yards and three touchdowns, while Kole Ayi led the defense with 10 tackles and three fumble recoveries.

UMass came out of the gate quickly. After Quinlan returned the opening kickoff 27 yards to the Minuteman 33, the offense went to work. Mixing Bankhead passing with Shipp runs, UMass systematically marched 67 yards into the end zone, with a 25-yard run by Shipp 12:56 into the game putting them ahead 7-0.

UMass couldn't take advantage of a Georgia Southern fumble on the Eagles' first drive as the Minutemen were forced to punt. from their 40, but a brilliant special teams tackle by Dan Healey pinned Corey Joyner on his own 9.

On the next play, Georgia Southern quarterback Greg Hill tried to pitch to his right, but UMass linebacker Kole Ayi anticipated the move and stepped in, picked it off and walked into the end zone giving UMass a 14-0 lead with 8:29 remaining in the first quarter.

The Eagles got on the board a short time later, when Hill elected to keep the ball and used great blocking en route to a 40-yard touchdown scamper to make the score 14-7.

After the UMass offense couldn't produce a first down, Andy Maclay's punt landed at the Georgia Southern 3-yard-line, where Healey downed it. The Eagles' fumble problems continued as freshman fullback Adrian Peterson coughed up the ball going across the middle.

Ayi recovered to give the visitors a first-and-goal at the Eagle 7. Whipple reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out a fullback pass, as Jamie Holston's toss got batted around in the end zone, but settled in Adrian Zullo's hands to put UMass ahead 21-7.

Hill's nightmarish first quarter continued as he fumbled again four plays later at the UMass 32, where Dan Schneider recovered. UMass moved the ball 53 yards to the 5, where Jason Cherry nailed a 22-yard field goal to put the Minutemen ahead 24-7 with 14:46 left in the second quarter.

Ayi recovered yet another fumble, but Shipp returned the favor, as his fumble gave the Georgia Southern the ball on the UMass 37. The Eagles capitalized when Hill hit Joyner in the back of the end zone with a three-yard TD pass to cut the Minuteman lead to 21-14.

But UMass counterpunched with a 12-play 64-yard drive that included a six-yard fake punt by Matt Jordan and finished on a keeper by Bankhead into the end zone for a one-yard TD that gave UMass a 31-14 lead.

Hill gave up the ball again on the next Eagle drive, this time on an interception as he was picked off by Jerard White on third-and-6 at the Georgia Southern 28. Shipp extended the Minuteman lead to 38-14 with 4:09 left in the half.

Peterson, who had been ineffective for most of the first half, found his rhythm on Georgia Southern's next drive. He accounted for 51 of the Eagles' 55 yards and dove over the goal line for a one-yard TD making it 38-21 with 1:57 left in the half.

UMass manufactured a hurry-up drive deep into Georgia Southern territory, but Jimmy Moore lost his footing and dropped the ball as he fell. The Eagles recovered to end the UMass drive and send the game to half-time.

Second-half break

Georgia Southern caught a break on its first drive of the second half. The replay showed that Hill's knee had touched the ground behind the line of scrimmage on a fourth-and-one, but the officials ruled he was still up and he broke tackles for a 16-yard gain. It kept alive the drive, which resulted in a five-yard TD run by Peterson. Chris Chambers missed the point-after try to make the score 38-27.

Hindered by a sack and a fumble they recovered themselves for a loss, the Minutemen went three-and-out, but a 69-yard Maclay punt pinned the Eagles at their own 2-yard line.

But the Eagles marched 14-plays, including 13 on the ground, into the end zone. The extra point was unsuccessful again, but the Eagles pulled within five at 38-33 with 41 seconds left in the third quarter.

However, the Minutemen refused to fold, answering with two more touchdowns and a field goal to clinch their first title.


UMass Wins I-AA Grid Title
By Bob Gary Jr., The Chattanooga Free Press Sports Writer, 12/20/1998

Capitalizing on seven turnovers, the University of Massaschusetts outlasted Georgia Southern, 55-43, in Saturday's NCAA Division I-AA national championship football game at Finley Stadium.

The Minutemen, 2-9 last year, finished 12-3 in their first season under head coach Mark Whipple. The Eagles, Southern Conference champions and the nation's top-ranked club most of the season, finished 14-1.

Photo
Kevin Quinlan, left, helps Adrian Zullo gain a few extra inches on the rushing play.
Jerrey Roberts, Daily Hampshire Gazette, photo
"I'm very proud of the way our kids came out and played,' Whipple said. "All we heard all week was how we didn't have a chance, and that helped us.

"Our players just wanted it more than anybody in the country. That's why they're the national champions.'

UMass got off to a fast start, driving 67 yards in seven plays for the game's first touchdown. Tailback Marcel Shipp, who set new title-game records with 35 carries for 244 yards, covered the last 25 for the first of his three scores.

The Minutemen doubled their lead with 8:29 left in the first quarter when linebacker Kole Ayi picked up a fumble by Eagle quarterback Greg Hill at the Georgia Southern nine and ran it in.

"One of the easiest plays I ever made,' a smiling Ayi said. "It just bounced right to me.'

Hill got his club on the board on the next series, though, with a 40-yard touchdown sprint. But two minutes later, pinned at its three-yard line after a UMass punt, Georgia Southern turned it over again; fullback Adrian Peterson fumbled, and Ayi recovered at the seven.

On the next play, fullback Jamie Holston got the ball from quarterback Todd Bankhead, stopped, and threw a halfback pass to Adrian Zullo for a touchdown. When kicker Jason Cherry added a 22-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter, it was 24-7.

The Eagles cut their deficit to 24-14 when Hill threw a six-yard scoring pass to Corey Joyner with 10:54 left in the first half. But the Minutemen answered, right away when Bankhead went in from a yard out just less than four minutes later.

UMass took a commanding 38-14 lead on a four-yard touchdown run by Shipp with 4:09 left in the half. The score was set up by Jerard White's interception of hill at the Georgia Southern 26.

The Eagles closed the gap on a one-yard scoring burst by Peterson two minutes before halftime. They kept it going in the third quarter; Peterson scored again, from five yards out, with 8:54 left in the period, and Hill added a three-yard touchdown run with 41 seconds to go in the quarter.

That brought Georgia Southern to within five at 38-33, and it got Whipple's attention.

"We had to get out of that quarter,' he said.

In desperate need of a score to blunt the Eagle rally, the Minutemen got one on the very next series. In fact, they needed only five plays and two minutes to drive 72 yards, the last two of which to the end zone were handled by Kevin Quinlan.

"We'd had the momentum when we cut the lead to 38-33,' Georgia Southern coach Paul Johnson observed, "but they came back and ran it right at us with a good drive. That took away our momentum.'

On the first play after the UMass touchdown, Hill fumbled once more. Brian Smith recovered for the Minutemen at the Eagle 42, and Shipp went in from the two five plays later to make it 52-33 and effectively settle the matter.

"Once we got (the margin) to 19,' Whipple said, "I felt we had it. That made it a three-possession game.'

The teams traded field goals, and Georgia Southern picked up one more touchdown on a 29-yard run by reserve quarterback J.R. Revere with just over a minute left.

"I have to give UMass a lot of credit,' Johnson said. "They played the way they needed to play to win the game, but we didn't execute very well today.

"We haven't had a game like this all season; we self-destructed and they capitalized. We dug such a hole that we couldn't climb out. When you turn the ball over seven times, you can't beat Brainerd High.'

But for Shipp, Hill would've set the new championship-game rushing record with 228 yards on 29 carries. Peterson, the Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year, carried 28 times for 161 yards.


It's Mass hysteria
Minutemen capture national title
By Joe Burris, The Boston Globe Staff, 12/20/1998

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Unbelievable.

Photo
Defensive lineman Aaron Parker joins the celebration.Globe photo / John Bohn
Absolutely unbelievable.

How do you explain it, going from the worst team in school history last season to the best in Division 1-AA this season? What do you compare it to?

Nothing.

There is no frame of reference from which to compare the University of Massachusetts' storybook football campaign. The compelling plots and subplots. The dramatic characters. The moments of drama and suspense, triumph and tragedy. For 15 games, the Minutemen often left you on the edge of your seat, wondering how the final chapter would conclude.

And what an ending it was.

The Minutemen etched themselves in college football history by capping one of the most unlikely runs for the Division 1-AA national championship with one of the most amazing performances in a final. UMass scored 38 first-half points and went on to upset top-ranked, top-seeded, and previously unbeaten Georgia Southern, 55-43, for the 21st Division 1-AA title.

Photo
Kole Ayi returns a first-quarter fumble for a touchdown.Union-News photo / Nathan Martin
UMass running back Marcel Shipp posted championship game records in rushing attempts (35) and yards (244) and scored three touchdowns and UMass linebacker Kole Ayi had three fumble recoveries and 10 tackles to lead the Minutemen to their second NCAA championship in school history (the women's lacrosse team won an NCAA title in 1981).

It was the second trip to the finals for the Minutemen, who lost the first 1-AA championship game to Florida A&M, 35-28, in 1978.

''I'm proud of how our kids came out and played. This is a great day for UMass and for our seniors,'' said UMass coach Mark Whipple, who on Dec. 16 of last year took over a program that finished 2-9 last season, and at his first press conference boldly declared he would field a team capable of winning a national title.

Whipple made good on his claim yesterday, putting together an offense that racked up 462 total yards (303 rushing) and frustrated Georgia Southern's high-octane offense at several critical points of the game.

''We played against [Division 1-AA player of the year] Jerry Azumah of New Hampshire, and many other great players in the Atlantic 10,'' said Whipple, ''so we weren't intimidated by these guys at all.''

Georgia Southern entered the game having allowed just 54 points in the first quarter. But UMass showed early on it wouldn't struggle offensively. The Minutemen capped a seven-play, 67-yard drive with a 25-yard run by Shipp to make it 7-0 with 12:56 remaining in the first quarter.

Running back Adrian Peterson was stuffed for no gain on Georgia Southern's first play from scrimmage. Then the Eagles showed why their offense is one of the most explosive in college football. Quarterback Greg Hill faked a pitch left, stutter-stepped at the line of scrimmage to elude defenders, then ran 41 yards before being pushed out of bounds by defensive back Jeremy Robinson.

But UMass got the ball back when Hill was popped at the line by defensive end Chris Price and coughed up the ball, which was recovered by defensive lineman Paul Bolden. UMass could muster nothing and was forced to punt, but Georgia Southern's turnover problem (the Eagles finished with seven giveaways) would continue.

The Minutemen went ahead, 14-0, on defense as Ayi recovered Hill's second fumble and returned it nine yards for a touchdown with 8:29 remaining in the first quarter.

Then, trailing, 14-7, with 5:11 left in the first, the Eagles fumbled again as Ayi stepped in front of a Hill option pitch and pounced on the ball. One play later, Jamie Holston, on a halfback option, threw a 7-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Adrian Zullo to put UMass up, 21-7.

''When you turn the ball over that many times you don't expect to win a ballgame,'' said Hill, who finished with 29 carries for 228 yards and two touchdowns for an offense that amassed 595 yards in defeat. ''They lined up as we expected and made big plays, but we helped them by turning the ball over.''

Hill's third fumble led to a 22-yard field goal by UMass's Jason Cherry to up the lead to 24-7 with 14:56 remaining in the second quarter. Georgia Southern cut the deficit to 10 on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Hill to wide receiver Corey Joyner, but UMass added two more rushing touchdowns - on a 1-yard run by Bankhead and a 4-yard run by Shipp - to lead at halftime, 38-14.

In the third quarter, Southern played its best football of the game, shutting out the Minutemen while cutting UMass's lead to 38-33 on a pair of touchdowns by Peterson (28 carries, 161 yards).

''At halftime, I told them [in the 1985 championship game] we were down to Furman, 28-6, and came back to win it [44-42],'' said Georgia Southern coach Paul Johnson. ''I told them the game was there to be had. I felt if we could get them to punt four times in the fourth quarter we would win.''

But UMass punted just twice. Meanwhile, Shipp and running back Kevin Quinlan each scored on 2-yard runs to put UMass ahead, 52-33, with 11:51 remaining. And the Minutemen were never seriously threatened again.

With 18 seconds left and the clock running out, the team bounded onto the field in a raucous celebration that quickly included band members and fans. And Whipple said the players thanked him for guiding them to a most unexpected title.

''And I thanked them back,'' he said. ''That's what it's all about. It's just like at Christmas, when you see your son open up the bike for Christmas. This is Christmas. You have 56 kids here and see their parents there, it is just a wonderful experience.''


Championing cause: Whipple's team best
By Michael Holley, The Boston Globe Staff, 12/20/1998

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - The University of Massachusetts has the best football team in the country. That is not my opinion. It was not determined by a writers' poll, a computer's whims or a corporate sponsor's desire for a lovely matchup in the Insight.com Bowl, Hotmail Bowl or AOL Bowl.

There was a legitimate championship game played at Finley Stadium yesterday and the Minutemen won it. It was not the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, which is supposed to be the Bowl Championship Series title game for Division 1-A teams. Please. Show me a championship game that is determined by a computer and I'll argue it is a Bill Gates gimmick. Show me a championship game that is determined by voters and I'll argue that it's politics.

The Minutemen didn't have to deal with that. They turned into Southern tourists the past few weeks, making two trips to Louisiana and one here. They were the 11th seed out of 16 teams in the Division 1-AA playoffs, came to a city that is only a few miles north of the Georgia line, and scored 55 points off a previously undefeated team from Georgia. When the Georgia Southern fans finally left - reluctantly - late in the fourth quarter, they saw ''UMass 55, GSU 43'' staring at them from the scoreboard.

All I can say is that I hope you found time to watch this team during the season. I hope UMass athletic director Bob Marcum has the state's checkbook open so he can retain Mark Whipple as head coach. I hope the NCAA can see the beauty of having a true playoff system for all levels of football. And, please, I hope you do not think I am gloating when I say this: I cannot believe I was paid to watch this wonderful game.

The rule is that you're not supposed to cheer in press boxes. It is unprofessional. Everyone was reminded of that before UMass and Georgia Southern produced their 98-point gem. I wish I could have seen the people who made that announcement. I wish I could have seen if they were cheering. If they weren't? Well, I'm convinced that they are otherworldly extras from ''Star Trek'' or Area 51 experiments who left Roswell, N.M., to see how crazy earthlings play football. And if that was truly the case, the aliens still don't know how Americans play football because this was rare. Many teenagers and college students in their early 20s have video game consoles in their rooms. I would bet that half of the players on the UMass team couldn't go back to school and score 55 points during a video game explosion.

And that was the intrigue of yesterday. It was not virtual reality. It was a scoring binge in real time. When NCAA officials handed out the records sheet after the game, there were 10 new entries. At one point in the second half a rushing record was broken on every series. It was a battle between UMass running back Marcel Shipp and Georgia Southern quarterback Greg Hill. When the Minutemen had the ball late, the announcer would say, ''The single-game rushing record belongs to Shipp.'' When the Eagles had the ball he'd say, ''The single-game rushing record belongs to Hill.'' Finally he said, ''The record belongs to Hill ... for now.''

The Eagles may have been misled by Shipp. His voice reminds you of a verbal tiptoe, so you might be surprised that a man who speaks so softly can run so ferociously. He ran for 244 yards yesterday, 16 more than Hill. The first time Whipple saw him run in spring practice, he made such a nice move on a linebacker that a position coach whispered, ''Are we that bad on defense or is Marcel that good?''

Georgia Southern can answer both questions. Shipp scored three touchdowns. It took him just over two minutes to score his first, on a 25-yard run. And linebackers Khari Samuel and Kole Ayi helped force the Eagles into seven turnovers. Ayi, who walked on at UMass, forced a first-quarter fumble and ran it in for a 9-yard touchdown.

Score after one: UMass 21, GSU 7.

''I told someone earlier in the week that it definitely was not going to be a 10-9 game,'' Whipple said. The coach went on to say that he thought ''45 [points] would be enough to get it done.'' He did not smile when he said that. Think about it: It's one thing to say that your team needs 45 points to win. It's quite another to have confidence in your team's ability to score 45.

That's only one reason Marcum should be a little nervous this morning. Whipple took a team that was 2-9 last season and turned it into the best group in the country. In only one year. He tinkered with his quarterback, got a 100-meter champion from Florida [Jimmy Moore] to play receiver, and recruited a few other players. But he basically took the core from a last-place team and produced 12 wins. He is also an offensive nut. He instructed his team to begin the game with an outrageous five-receiver flood set called, ''Chattanooga.'' He promised the players that they would run that play to begin the game, regardless of starting position. He said he did it to ''break up the tension'' on the sideline.

Then there is Whipple's play-calling. He likes to go for it on fourth down, even if he can feel the shadow of his own end zone. Against Lehigh, the Minutemen went for it on fourth and 1 from their own 28. They made it. Yesterday, Whipple was about to go for an onside kick late in the second quarter and his team up 17 points. Georgia Southern coach Paul Johnson noticed this and put his hands team on the field. Whipple was in their heads early. They couldn't make halftime adjustments because what exactly were they going to adjust to? Big-time programs pay attention to people like Whipple. Don't be surprised in a couple weeks when his name pops up as someone's coaching candidate for 1999.

Whipple's players were thanking him yesterday. He was the one who told them to get over their low expectations and think about a title. He wasn't always nice when he said it either. He once got on Shipp during a road trip because he was not wearing a tie. He is a man of details and discipline. The players learned to absorb those qualities. Yesterday they practiced them.

One of the Eagles' players, defensive back Arkee Thompson, had said during the week, ''My name is Arkee and I major in national championships.'' The UMass players didn't say anything about that comment until after the game, at which point they told Arkee that he had better go to summer school.

Eventually, all the Minutemen smiled and made their way home. The two-win team morphed into a 12-win team in one season. The Minutemen are the best team in the country. It's not an opinion. You can go to Amherst if you don't believe it. There you will find players with mud on their jerseys, stories from the South in their memories, and a trophy in their school's halls.


Locals kick off the party
By Frank Dell'Apa, The Boston Globe Staff, 12/20/1998

AMHERST - University of Massachusetts football fans began celebrating the team's national championship late yesterday afternoon. There were horns honking at traffic lights and shouts of ''UMass, No. 1.''

''The whole year was a surprise,'' said Drew Toney, an Amherst resident and student at Providence College. ''I thought they would have a chance after they lost to Delaware by only 3 points. By the time they beat McNeese State, everyone knew they were for real.''

Toney had just departed Rafter's sports bar - where a large group had gathered to watch the game - and was on his way to watch the UMass basketball team play the University of Detroit at the Mullins Center.

''I'm not surprised because of [coach Mark] Whipple's offensive scheme,'' said Dennis Lebeau of East Hampton. ''He has an open offense and Georgia Southern is not used to that. Georgia Southern's league is all running.

''After a 2-9 record [last season], I thought at best they would have been .500 and I would have been satisfied with that.''

Cousins T.J. Boothroyd, 12, and Jared Boothroyd, 10, missed the game while shopping in the Hampshire Mall.

''But my father watched the game in the Ground Round and told us about it,'' said T.J. ''I thought they would win it.''

''I was surprised about the amount of points and the amount of turnovers,'' said Lew Collins, who watched the game at home before arriving at the Mullins Center. ''To go from 2-9 to a national championship is pretty surprising. I thought it would take three or four years because in football you need a lot of recruits.

''First-year coaches always say the national championship is their goal, but it usually takes a while. Mark Whipple is going to be the new god on campus. When he was in the Division 2 championship, one team scored 59 points but he lost. This time he was on the right side.

''They lost a lot of close games or they could have been 15-0. It was an amazing run. We're waiting to see if there is going to be a parade for them.''


Offenses wreak havoc with the record book
By Joe Burris, The Boston Globe Staff, 12/20/1998

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Every great game has a title, a nickname. So what would you call the University of Massachusetts' 55-43 triumph over Georgia Southern in yesterday's 1-AA final?

How about, ''One For the Record Books''?

The teams combined for 10 championship game and two tournament records. The most prolific was the 98 combined points, eclipsing the mark of 86 in Georgia Southern's 44-42 win over Furman in 1985. The tally was indicative of two of the most explosive offenses in Division 1-AA.

''I told a bunch of people [before the game] that [the final score] wasn't going to be 10-9,'' said UMass coach Mark Whipple, alluding to Youngstown State's 10-9 victory over McNeese State in last season's championship game. ''After five minutes, I think everyone knew that.''

Whipple's unit also scored the most points in a final, bettering the mark of 49 by Marshall in 1996. Running back Marcel Shipp's 244 rushing yards topped Florida A&M's Mike Solomon, who rushed for 207 yards in a 35-28 win over UMass in 1978.

Shipp also had a tournament-record 35 carries, surpassing the 31 by Georgia Southern's Joe Ross in 1989 and GSU's Raymond Gross in 1990. Other Minutemen got into the act. UMass kicker Jason Cherry's seven extra points beat the the five set Furman's Kevin Esval in 1985.

UMass punter Andrew Maclay's 51-yard average surpassed the 48.3 of Todd Fugate of Marshall in 1987. The average also set a UMass record.

Georgia Southern's offense was not to be outdone (record-wise, at least). Among its marks set were rushing yards in a 1-AA tournament (1,680), topping the school's 1986 national championship team.

Eagles trashed by talking

The players kept calling it ''that quote.'' It was said by Georgia Southern defensive back Arkee Thompson, a freshman who during a luncheon Friday afternoon stood before both teams and said that he ''majored in national championships.''

UMass players said they were incensed by the remark. They also said UMass officials printed stories off the Internet, quoting Georgia Southern players as saying Shipp and the UMass defense weren't much to worry about.

The Minutemen said throughout the playoffs they have heard such remarks, particularly in games involving teams from the South. Through much of it, they have reluctantly held their tongue, as they did Friday.

Not yesterday.

''Finally, I can say anything I want,'' said UMass senior tight end Kerry Taylor following the game. ''[On Friday], a kid said he majored in national championships. All of us had a few things to say to him afterward, along the lines of, `You flunked this semester. You have to go to summer school.'''

Whipple said after the game that one of the keys was that the Minutemen were motivated by the statements, and he added he was pleased his team didn't make similar barbs. ''I think that gave us extra incentive and it's why we came out the way we did,'' he said.


UMass wins first I-AA title
By Chuck Thompson, The Macon Telegraph, 12/20/1998

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - On a damp, gray day when they expected to celebrate perfection and their return to the pinnacle of NCAA Division I-AA football, the Georgia Southern Eagles were sent home in despair because they could not stop self-destructing and they could not stop a swivel-hipped sophomore tailback named Marcel Shipp.

Trying to become the first team to go 15-0 twice this century by winning their fifth national title, the Eagles were done in by seven turnovers and a record-setting 244-yard performance by Shipp as he and his Massachusetts Minutemen teammates embarrassed Georgia Southern 55-43 in the I-AA championship game at Finley Stadium.

UMass' 55 points, the 98 total for the two teams, and GSU's six fumbles were all championship game records, as were Shipp's 35 carries.

When the Eagles held on to the ball, they were as prolific as the Minutemen, rushing for 457 yards and passing for 138. But they could not stop the turnovers, something that had not been a problem this season (GSU averaged less than two turnovers a game until Saturday).

Junior quarterback Greg Hill was victimized most often, losing the ball twice on pitches, once with a bad handoff, twice when he was stripped of the ball as he was tackled and once on an interception. Freshman fullback Adrian Peterson had the other fumble.

Those turnovers negated what otherwise were impressive performances by the two. Hill ran for 228 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 111 and another score. Peterson ran for 161 yards and two touchdowns.

"That isn't typical for us," GSU coach Paul Johnson said of the turnovers. "We haven't had a game like this all season. We self-destructed and they capitalized. Give them a lot of the credit. Their outside linebacker made two outstanding plays. And their middle linebacker stripped the ball from us twice. But that is also poor coaching and poor execution on our part. We're supposed to protect the ball better than that. When you turn the ball over seven times, you can't beat Brainerd High here in Chattanooga."

And certainly not a team with an offense such as UMass' which came in averaging 33.5 points and 472.3 yards a game.

Shipp had run for 2,298 yards and 15 touchdowns entering Saturday's game, but the Eagles expected junior quarterback Todd Bankhead, who had passed for 3,767 yards and 34 touchdowns, to be UMass' most dangerous weapon. It was Shipp, however, who proved impossible to stop on Saturday.

"He's strong, but he's also very elusive," said GSU defensive end Eric Davis. "They did a good job giving him some room inside the tackles, and he did a good job of shaking guys off and making them miss. He had a heck of a game."

Bankhead also completed 17 of 25 passes for 152 yards to help keep the Eagles from concentrating soley on stopping the run.

"I was proud of how our kids came out and played," said UMass coach Mark Whipple, who took a team that was 2-9 last season and turned it into a national champion in his first season as coach. "Sometimes in a big game you come out and take a while to get going or make mistakes. But we were aggressive and caused some first quarter turnovers. And we were able to run the ball well. From looking at them on film, we felt we could run it, and we did.

"This was a great, great day for UMass and our seniors. We read all week that we didn not have a chance, and we were really motivated by that."

UMass, which finishes 12-3, was the 11th seed in the 16-team field. GSU, which finishes 14-1, was seeded first.

The first half couldn't have been much worse for the Eagles.

First, UMass drove 67 yards for a touchdown to start the game, and then the turnovers began.

Hill fumbled trying to pull a handoff back from Peterson on GSU's first drive, and Paul Bolden recovered for the Minutemen.

Photo
Kole Ayi comes up with another Eagle fumble.
Jerrey Roberts, Daily Hampshire Gazette, photo
The Eagles stopped UMass that time, but on their next offensive play, Hill dropped what was supposed to be a pitch to Bennie Cunningham when outside linebacker Kole Ayi suddenly appeared between the two. Ahi grabbed the ball on the bounce at the 9 and ran the turnover in for a touchdown to make it 14-0.

Hill ran 40 yards for a touchdown on GSU's next possession, but after the Eagles held UMass again, Peterson fumbled the ball on a run up the middle, and Ayi recovered at the 7. Fullback Jamie Holston then took a pitch, pulled up and passed the ball to Adrian Zullo, who had it bounce off his hands but come right back to him for the touchdown.

Hill fumbled the ball away again at the UMass 32 on the Eagles' next possession, and the Minutemen moved to the GSU 5 before stalling and getting a 22-yard field goal by Jason Cherry on the first play of the second quarter, making it 24-7.

Ayi batted down another pitch from Hill on GSU's next possession and recovered at the 32.

"It's a helpless feeling to stand over there and watch all those fumbles," Johnson said. "Especially since we only had 13 in our first 14 games. But everything that we said couldn't happen if we were going to win happened. We could not let them run the ball, and we did, and we could not have turnovers, and we did."

The field was soaked by heavy rains overnight and Saturday morning, but Hill said that or wet footballs were not the reason for the turnovers. "I think it was just us, not the field. We just didn't squeeze it tight enough. If we had executed, we could have held the ball and won," he said. "We just made too many mistakes."

Even then, the Eagles were able to get back into the game twice.

After Hill's fumble at the 32, GSU got the ball back three plays later when Shipp fumbled and Kiwaukee Thomas picked it up and returned it 37 yards to the UMass 36. GSU marched in from there, with Hill hitting Corey Joyner with a 6-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-14.

But again, the Eagles couldn't stop UMass, which drove 64 yards to go up 31-14 on a 1-yard sneak by Bankhead. And again, the Eagles turned it over, this time on an interception by Jerard White that gave the Minutemen the ball at the GSU 36. They scored from there in five plays, this time on a 4-yard run by Shipp, making it 38-21.

Georgia Southern then put together its best stretch of the game, driving 55 yards for a touchdown, on a 1-yard run by Peterson, to make it 38-21 at halftime. The Eagles followed that by dominating the third quarter, putting together two long touchdown drives to cut the lead to 38-33 while shutting out the Minutemen. Peterson scored on the first drive on a 5-yard run and Hill on the second on a 2-yard sweep.

"We've been down before (by 17 to The Citadel in the third quarter earlier this season), so we still felt we were in it at halftime," Johnson said. "Then we came out in the third quarter and got within a touchdown. But give them credit, because they came back with a drive and then another turnover, and we were back in a hole."

The drive was 72 yards in only five plays - runs of 17, 22 and 28 yards by Shipp, then runs of 3 and 2 yards by backup tailback Kevin Quinlan.

Then Hill fumbled at the end of a 7-yard run on the Eagles's first play, giving the ball back to UMass at their 42. The Minutemen marched in from there in five plays, going up 52-33.

That proved enough of a margin to secure the win, even as GSU outscored UMass 10-3 in the final 11:41.

"We had a great season to go 14-1, but it is really disappointing to finish with a bad game and a loss," Johnson said. "Give UMass credit for playing very hard and very well. But we didn't play the way we had all season, and that hurts."


Eagles have no defense for this loss
By Michael A. Lough, The Macon Telegraph, 12/20/1998

CHATTANOOGA - Adrian Peterson was getting nothing.

The defense was stopping nobody.

Greg Hill countered good runs with bad fumbles.

The defense was stopping nobody.

Massachusetts ran and passed like it was a scrimmage.

Georgia Southern trailed by 17 points. In the NCAA Division I-AA national championship game. With the majority of the 17,501 wearing blue. And the defense was failing to intercede in the movements of the opposing team.

Normal circumstances, a team frets a bit. Gets a little tight. Starts looking at page 237 of the playbook to see what might work. And the pits get a little damp.

Down by 17, nothing working, the comeback began. Few were surprised that Georgia Southern could score enough to get back into the game, and the Eagles did.

But could Georgia Southern's defense, mistaken at no point this year for an upper echelon unit, at some point during this long game ever stop Massachusetts?

No.

You score 43 points and run for 457 yards and you're supposed to have a chance to win.

Georgia Southern did that Saturday. Had a chance to win its fifth I-AA national championship on offense, lost a chance to win its fifth I-AA national championship on defense.

We knew this would be the problem. Nobody doubted Georgia Southern would score points, would be able to run the ball.

"It wasn't like they were just knocking us on our can," said GSU head coach Paul Johnson. "Shoot, we had 570 yards."

I mean, Peterson went into the game with only seven negative yards all season on 337 carries, an absurd and impressive figure.

I mean, Greg Hill is maybe an all-American running back playing quarterback who went into Saturday with 1,359 yards on the ground and racked up 228.

I mean, Georgia Southern was good for 6.6 yards every time it ran the ball this year.

But it was all meaningless.

Photo
Georgia Southern gravely underestimated Marcel Shipp.
Jerrey Roberts, Daily Hampshire Gazette, photo
UMass had a Shipp the Titanic's iceberg couldn't stop, let alone Georgia Southern. His name is Marcel.

The Minutemen had a quarterback who was money, named Bankhead, Tommy.

Most, though, UMass had a Shipp that Georgia Southern couldn't stop, a bit of irony since it's usually Georgia Southern that has the tough-to-tackle running back, Adrian Peterson.

Now, perhaps the defenses of 14 other teams - the ones GSU had beaten - can go to their offenses and say, "See? Get off our back. We weren't the only one. Not our fault Southern would suddenly go mortal and kicking it around seven times."

Of course, those 14 teams were at home at the time. Their trips weren't as long, though, as the Eagles' trip back to Statesboro.

The last time a team scored 40 points in this game and lost? It was 1987 when Marshall racked up 42 and lost by one to Northeast Louisiana. Two years earlier, Furman did the same in a 44-42 loss.

To one Georgia Southern team coached by one Erk Russell, who stalked an empty part of the stands in a drab gray raincoat opposite the GSU bench and fans. It was certainly a memory-tester for the state's legendary coach who saw his former assistant, now 24-4 in two years in Statesboro, lose a weird one.

"We played 14 games and I think we had only 17 or 18 turnovers," Johnson said. "To come out and have seven in one game ..."

Is not good. Yet the Eagles had chances. Except ...

"It's like I told 'em," he said. "Just because you turn it over down there don't mean you have to give them a touchdown."

Indeed. When it was time for a defense to make the play, regardless of the ball being in the red zone, green zone or fuchia zone, it was the Massachusetts defense that made the play.

Example: GSU's Greg Hill went left on the option and UMass' Kole Ayi reached out and tipped the pitchout. Counterplay: When Adrian Zullo bobbled a pass in the end zone, no Eagles were close enough to bat it away, so it was a touchdown.

Example: Georgia Southern drove, but lost eight yards on two plays inside the 15-yard line and had to settle for a field goal. Counter: UMass scored on its two possessions around that field goal, thanks to three plays of 22 yards or more.

And that was the game.

There's no point in holding a team to 192 yards if it scores 35 points. So Georgia Southern's 133-yard advantage on total offense was rendered moot.

Johnson has plenty of offense back, thus no reason to pick against Georgia Southern to visit Finley Stadium again next season.

"It's like I said," he noted. "You turn it over seven times, you can't beat anybody."

Except, as the Eagles will remember for 364 days, yourself.

Michael A. Lough is a sports writer for The Macon Telegraph. You can reach him at 744-4626 or at mlough@macontel.com.


Hill has title game record no player wants to hold
By Chris Hughes, The Macon Telegraph, 12/20/1998

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Greg Hill knows the numbers were all wrong.

Sure, it's been12 years since a Georgia Southern quarterback had the kind of stats Hill totalled this year.

But with an opportunity to join the elite company of Tracy Ham and Raymond Gross, past Georgia Southern quarterbacks who have won national championships, Hill had a recording-setting day of the worst kind.

The junior lost four of the Eagles' NCAA Division I-AA Championship-Game record six fumbles, bobbles that allowed underdog Massachusetts claim a 55-43 victory that denied top-ranked GSU an unprecedented fifth national championship and a perfect 15-0 season.

Suddenly, the Eagles offense that had been virtually unstoppable the entire season was being stopped by the man who runs it.

"When you turn the ball over that many times, you don't expect to win," Hill said. "We just couldn't make the plays we needed."

True to Hill's word, Georgia Southern won 14 games because the Eagles only turned the ball over 20 times - seven interceptions and 13 fumbles.

On Saturday, Georgia Southern set a record for fumbles in championship game before the first quarter was over. The Eagles' five first-half fumbles - two by fullback Adrian Peterson and three by Hill - enabled the Minutemen (12-2) to build a 38-21 lead.

"We got into a hole a little bit too big and we couldn't rebound," Hill said. But the Eagles almost recovered.

At times, Hill looked terrific, just as he had up to the championship game when he became the first GSU quarterback since Ham to throw and rush for more than 1,000 yards each in the same season.

Hill scored two touchdowns rushing and his 228 yards on 29 carries is the second-most rushing yards by a single player in a title game. Hill also completed eight of 16 passes for 111 yards and a score. But he also threw an interception for a total of six turnovers on his own.

"They lined up just as we expected and made some big plays," Hill said. "But we helped them when we turned the ball over."

And when they didn't turn the ball over, there was little stopping the Eagles. And at one point Hill had brought the Eagles back to within a touchdown.

Georgia Southern opened the second half with two typical Eagles drives.

The Eagles drove the ball 78 yards on 13 plays with Hill converting a fourth-and-1 on a 16-yard gain. Peterson finished the drive, scoring on a 5-yard run, and Georgia Southern trailed 38-27.

Seven minutes later, the Eagles cut the deficit to 38-33 after Hill directed a 98-yard, 14-play march he began with a 16-yard bootleg and ended with a 2-yarder.

But then the day ended the way it started. Hill suffered his fifth bobble on the first play of Georgia Southern's next possession after UMass, the 11th seed, had stretched the lead to 45-33.

"If we could've executed and took care of the ball, I'm sure things would've been different," Hill said. "We just made some mistakes and things didn't go our way."


UMass coach makes good on promise to take Minutemen to championship
By Chuck Thompson, The Macon Telegraph, 12/20/1998

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - When Mark Whipple took over as Massachusetts coach last December, inheriting a team that had gone 2-9, he said the immediate goal was to win the I-AA title.

He made good on that promise when the Minutemen downed Georgia Southern 55-43 at Finley Stadium on Saturday.

"People make a lot of that statement now, but I said the same sort of thing when I went to New Haven in 1988 and then to Brown in 1994. That's just the way I am. Being the best in your division is what you should always strive for," he said. "I wasn't sure if we could really do it this year, but I thought we had a chance to be good and I knew we needed a big goal to work toward to get better.

"The kids took our message of striving for the top to heart and worked very hard. This feels so great for them. All the seniors were coming up thanking me after the game, but I thanked them back because they are the ones who made it happen."

UMass' turnaround from 2-9 to 12-3 was the biggest in Division I-AA this season, something that even GSU coach Paul Johnson, who was voted the I-AA coach of the year, said is remarkable.

"Coach Whipple deserves to be the coach of the year. He and his staff did an outstanding job this season and in preparing his team for this game. We were outcoached and outplayed," Johnson said.

Whipple said he first believed his team had a chance to go all the way this season when they rebounded from a disappointing 33-30 loss to Delaware in the opener to beat Richmond on the road the next week.

Photo
The Minutemen's hard work paid off in the end.
Jerrey Roberts, Daily Hampshire Gazette, photo
"When the guys didn't give in to that early disappointment and instead let the way they had played build their confidence for a tough road game, it showed me we had the makeup to be a good team. So much of this game is attitude, and these guys have believed all season."

RECORDS FALL: There were a number of records broken by Georgia Southern and UMass in Saturday's championship game, a number of them set by GSU in previous seasons.

The 98 total points eclipsed the previous record of 86 set in Georgia Southern's 44-42 victory over Furman in 1985. UMass' 55 were the most by one team, topping the 49 scored by Marshall in 1996. The 55 also is the most allowed by Georgia Southern in any game since the Eagles restarted football in 1982.

Marcel Shipp's 244 rushing yards broke the record of 207 set by Florida A&M's Mike Solomon in 1978. That was the first year for the I-AA championship game, and Florida A&M beat UMass in that game, which was the Minutemen's only other trip to the final until Saturday. GSU's Greg Hill also topped Solomon's record with 228 yards.

Shipp's 35 carries broke the record of 31 shared by GSU's Georgia Southern (1989) and Raymond Gross (1990).

Andrew Maclay averaged 51 yards on four punts for UMass, bettering the record of 48.3 set by Marshall's Todd Fugate in 1987.

Jason Cherry's seven extra point kicks broke the record of five held by Furman's Kevin Esval (1985).

Georgia's 20 rushing first downs topped the 19 by Florida A&M in 1978, and the Eagles six fumbles and six lost fumbles were records. The previous record for fumbles lost was four, shared by Northeast Louisiana (1987) and Georgia Southern (1990).

The Eagles also set two I-AA tournament records. Freshman fullback Adrian Peterson had a total of 674 yards rushing in GSU's four playoff games, topping the mark of 661 set by GSU's Tracy Ham in 1986. And GSU's 1,680 rushing yards in the four games topped the 1,522 the 1986 Eagles had.

MOTIVATING WORDS: Georgia Southern coaches and players were quoted during the week saying that they believed they could handle UMass' offense because they had faced strong passing teams Colgate and Connecticut already in the playoffs, and because they had beaten Western Illiniois despite allowing tailback Aaron Stecker to run for 175 yards. They even said they felt Stecker was a better running back than UMass' Shipp.

"We saw some of those comments in the papers and on the Internet, and we wanted to show them Shipp was pretty good, too," Whipple said. "I looked it up and found out the most anyone had ever gained against them running was 204 yards (South Carolina State's Kenny Bynum in 1996), so I told Marcel he would do better than that. And he did."

BLUE PANTS FAIL: The Eagles finally lost wearing their navy blue pants, which they were wearing for only the fifth time ever, all in the last two seasons. Normally the Eagles wear plain white pants.

GSU wore the blue pants for the first time against Tennessee-Chattanooga at home last season, its first Southern Conference game at home under Paul Johnson, which GSU won 37-10. The Eagles also wore them later in the season for the final conference game against Furman, which they won 30-13 to clinch the league title.

This year, the Eagles wore the blue pants when they faced Appalachian State at home when GSU was ranked second and Appalachian third, and the Eagles won 37-24. And they wore them for the first time away from home, and the only time with their white tops, when they played at Furman for a game GSU won 45-17 to clinch their second straight conference title.


Georgia Southern loses championship game, 55-43
Eagles' offense self-destructs with seven turnovers
By Donald Heath, The Savannah Morning News, 12/20/1998

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- For 14 games, Georgia Southern took yardage and scored points against helpless defenses.

But Saturday, the suddenly vulnerable Eagles gave everything away.

In almost a surreal three hours at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Southern committed seven turnovers. And when darkness rolled in over the mountains here, the Eagles had lost grasp of a national championship well within reach.

The season ended a game short for Southern, and its quest for perfection fell flat in a 55-43 loss to Massachusetts for the Division I-AA National Championship.

The Eagles rang up 595 offensive yards, 457 on the ground.

But the only numbers that matter Saturday were the six fumbles lost and an interception that led to 31 UMass points.

"It hurts very much to have won 14 straight games and lose the biggest one," said GSU defensive end Eric Davis. "But everything happens for a reason and life goes on."

For the Minutemen, it was the ending of a magical season, when a 2-9 team in 1997 reversed fields, like a typical run by their tailback Marcel Shipp, to win their first national championship.

UMass (12-3) became the first Atlantic 10 Conference/Yankee Conference team to win a I-AA national championship.

"This was a great, great day for UMass and for our seniors," said first-year coach Mark Whipple. "We read all week that we didn't have a chance and that really motivated us."

Shipp, a sophomore, did the most damage, cutting through the GSU defense for a championship game-record 244 yards and three touchdowns.

And when Georgia Southern made a second-half run to cut a 24-point deficit to five, 38-33, Shipp got the Minutemen offense back on course. He ran for 102 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"Today (Shipp) really rose to the occasion, and when he needed some tough yardage inside, he got the ball and made things happen," said Davis. "They made the plays today and we didn't."

There were an incredible amount of plays made by both teams in this shootout. The combined 98 points were a championship game record.

Amid an afternoon of brilliance, quarterback Greg Hill would rather forget the day ever happened. He ran for 228 yards and two touchdowns and added another 111 yards and a scoring pass through the air.

But he fumbled four times and suffered an interception.

And freshman fullback Adrian Peterson, who ran for 161 yards and two touchdowns, also fumbled twice.

And when the day ended, Southern had lost a chance at a division record-setting fifth national championship. Instead, the Eagles suffered their second title-game setback.

Disappointment will last a long time for the Eagles, who were trying to become only the third team to go 15-0 in a season this century. The turnovers coupled with a defense that couldn't stop the Minutemen made it a long three hours on this overcast day.

Photo
Minuteman Kole Ayi gets in position to grab the shovel pass from Greg Hill, officially recovering a fumble.John Carrington / Savannah Morning News photo
The six fumbles were the most lost by a team in the championship game. UMass linebacker Kole Ayi, whose playing status was questionable because of bruised ribs, recovered three.

GSU, which lost only 13 fumbles in 14 games this season, couldn't have picked a worse time to lose grip.

It started right away. Southern lost four fumbles in the first quarter.

"It was a helpless feeling," said GSU coach Paul Johnson. "If it had happened all year, maybe it wouldn't have surprised you."

It was a sobering half for Southern. The Eagles fell behind by 24 -- their biggest deficit of the season -- before Peterson scored on a 1-yard run with 1:57 left to cut the Minutemen's advantage to 38-21.

Massachusetts dominated from the start. In just seven plays, Shipp capped a 67-yard drive with a 25-yard touchdown run.

Then the turnovers began. Peterson's fumble halted a GSU drive that reached the UMass 29. After a punt backed the Eagles to the 13, Hill's pitch on the option was intercepted by Ayi, who walked into the end zone giving the Minutemen a surprising 14-0 lead.

But UMass showed a soft side on the next possession. Bennie Cunningham returned the kickoff 39 yards and a facemask penalty gave Southern the ball at the Minutemen 47. After a pitch to Cherard Freeman gained seven, Hill went the final 40, cutting back against the flow of defenders to make it 14-7.

Southern's defense got a rare stop the next time UMass had the ball, but punter Andrew Maclay backed the Eagles to the 3. Peterson bulled ahead, was stripped and Ayi recovered at the 7.

On the next play, fullback Jamie Holston threw a touchdown pass to Adrian Zullo and UMass had a 21-7 advantage.

Another Hill fumble led to a field goal and the Minutemen had a 24-7 lead.

Southern fought back. Hill threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Corey Joyner, but the Minute added touchdown runs by Todd Bankhead and Shipp to stretch the lead to 38-14.

The Eagles, however, rallied. Peterson scored on a 1-yard run before the half and then, getting the ball to start the second half, Peterson capped a 78-yard drive with a 5-yard scoring run.

Southern's defense stopped the Minutemen on four plays and the Eagle offense marched 98 yards on 14 plays for another touchdown to pull within 38-33. GSU out-gained UMass 177-12 in the third quarter.

"Earlier in the year, when we weren't sure of ourselves, we might have started to think how we were going to lose this game," said Minutemen linebacker Khari Samuel. "Instead we put our foot down and thought, 'We're going to win this game. Let's do it.' "

That's when Shipp reeled off runs of 17, 21 and 29 yards and finally Kevin Quinlan punched in a 2-yard touchdown run. Then Hill suffered his fourth fumble and UMass needed just five plays to go 42 yards as Shipp scored from the 5.

Southern couldn't recover. And the Minutemen's magical season ended with a ring.

"We haven't had a game like this all season," Johnson said. "We self-destructed and they capitalized. Give them all the credit, but we did not execute very well today. When you turn the ball over seven times, you couldn't beat (Chattanooga's) Brainerd High."


Option's ugly side did in Georgia Southern offense
By Anthony Stastny, The Savannah Morning News, 12/20/1998

For 14 games, Georgia Southern won on flash, dash and an offense that buried opponents before they even knew they were dead.

Southern's offense was so good, the big numbers so bright that a couple of troublesome areas were relegated to the shadows.

Saturday, in the game this team waited for all year, an opponent finally put the harsh spotlight of reality on GSU's netherworld: the unnoticed place where a defense couldn't stop a jaywalker and an offense had never had to overcome its own mistakes.

The defense had been a liability all year, but the Eagles scored so easily and often it simply didn't matter. Who cares if you win 48-24 or 24-0? The net result is the same technically, right?

Not really, and here is why: Winning by 24 in a shutout is not the same as winning by 24 when the other team also scores 24. It means that the offense did its job and the defense got jobbed. That's a big difference.

Massachusetts made that apparent Saturday.

GSU had averaged less than a fumble per game -- 13 in 14 games. For an option team that is almost perfection.

But perfection has its limits, and on a chilly, cloudy day in the hills of Tennessee, GSU crossed that ill-defined boundary.

The defense was its usual suspect self, but to impeach the defense would be a miscarriage of justice.

Southern's offense simply self-destructed, leaving a trail of broken dreams in its shattered wake.

The Eagles had more drops than an airborne regiment. They lost six fumbles, one for a cheap touchdown and one for the clincher.

In the end, GSU's offense got its multitude of yards and points, but UMass got even more. Before the two were through, they had set an NCAA record for scoring, 55-43.

It didn't figure to happen this way, not on this day or any day, to this team or against this team.

Southern went through its playoff schedule unchallenged. Quarterback Greg Hill had matured into a player who can easily be the dominant figure in any game. Freshman running back Adrian Peterson gave the Eagles an inside weapon that opposing defenses could neither ignore nor stop.

The Eagles could run, pass and score, and they did so with ease.

As the fumbles mounted Saturday, it stopped being so easy.

"We kept digging ourselves deeper and deeper in," said GSU coach Paul Johnson.

Coming into the game, the Minutemen figured to be as much U-boat as UMass. You know: What goes up must come down, but what goes down doesn't have to come up.

Massachusetts lost three games during the regular season and struggled in the playoffs. They looked as fearsome as a cocker spaniel puppy.

But looks can be deceiving.

The visitors took GSU's gifts, mixed in a pretty good running game and adequate defense and walked away with a national title.

Even with all its mistakes, Georgia Southern was in the game late. The Eagles dominated the third quarter the way they have dominated most opponents all year. They pulled to within five at 38-33, but the Minutemen marched for a critical touchdown and the Eagles are left with a nest full of might-have-beens.

"I told them 'just because you turn the ball over doesn't mean you have to give up a touchdown,' " Johnson said.

Some speculated that this just wasn't GSU's year. UMass was a 2-9 team a year ago and was working with a coach in his first year. Maybe it was sort of a destiny thing, Cinderella in cleats and shoulderpads.

But Johnson knows better. He knows he put together a team with the talent and skill to win this game.

Gentleman to the end, Johnson gave the credit to the new national champions.

"They played the way that they needed to to win this game," he said.

But the reality is less gentlemanly. When the last fumble fell, this much was clear: The only team Georgia Southern couldn't beat was itself.


UMass made the most of its run
Whipple's faith fires national championship
By Joe Burris, The Boston Globe Staff, 12/21/1998

In all honesty, it wasn't fair. The 1997 University of Massachusetts football team wasn't a conference title contender, but it was much better than its 2-9 finish. The season should have been marked with productivity and memorable moments rather than embarrassing defeats, fingerpointing, and frustrations.

Fate was too cruel to the hapless Minutemen last season; players who had given their best effort to make the program successful had little to show and were left nonplussed, wondering if the reap-sow principle ever would kick in.

Fate made its peace with the Minutemen this season, paving the way for an unlikely run to a winning season, a postseason victory, then a national title. It was a year that made up for the futility of last season and the sub-par years that preceded it.

''This time last year ... I was looking for answers about what had happened and just trying to put it in the past,'' said UMass senior linebacker Khari Samuel following UMass's 55-43 victory over Georgia Southern in Saturday's Division 1-AA national championship game.

''Last year, I don't remember too much because every game we lost I tried to put behind me the next day. This year, we set so many goals. Coach [Mark] Whipple set the goals when he came in here, to win the national championship.

Photo
The Minutemen gather around the championship trophy (center).
Jerrey Roberts, Daily Hampshire Gazette, photo
''And as I've said a few times this year, I've always known we've had the talent to win. It's just about putting it together and bringing confidence back in this program.''

UMass discovered on Nov. 22 it had earned an at-large bid to the 16-team 1-AA tournament, but many players were still discouraged over the 28-27 regular season-ending loss to Connecticut the day before.

UMass first-year coach Whipple told his 11th-seeded team that its previous two defeats were followed by four victories, and that four victories would give the Minutemen the national championship.

Many of the players simply stared at their coach, whose words sounded similar to his preseason claim of fielding a team capable of winning a national championship. Surely many of UMass's opponents didn't give it much of a chance, as evidenced by comments Minutemen heard during the run.

Yet with every game, Whipple's claim appeared conceivable. While UMass didn't have as much speed and quickness as most of its opponents, it had enough at key positions, and it made up for lack of speed at other positions with technique and effort.

The Minutemen's foes were often confused, frustrated. Offenses which had spent all season controlling the game with a solid rush attack had to abandon that game plan once UMass went ahead with its pass-rush mix. Teams passed more than they were accustomed to, and that led to much futility.

Defenses which had dominated opponents with quickness and aggression were fooled by trick plays and misdirections, and were left tentative. Some who had underestimated players like running back Marcel Shipp and wide receiver Adrian Zullo paid for it.

Shipp set 1-AA championship game records in carries (35) and yards (244) against GSU.

Yet the effort was no less impressive than the 257 yards he gained against Maine Nov. 14 and the 270 yards gained against UConn Nov. 21 - both coming after missing practice with a knee injury suffered in an Oct. 31 game at New Hampshire.

Photo
Kevin Quinlan stretches to break the plane of the goal line.
Jerrey Roberts, Daily Hampshire Gazette, photo
Shipp's injury was so painful after the Connecticut game he was forced to sit out the Minutemen's first-round playoff game against favored McNeese State. Yet freshman tailback Kevin Quinlan, who entered the game with 21 carries for 73 yards, left with a career-best 147 yards on 28 carries.

Zullo injured an ankle in the regular-season finale against Connecticut and was expected to miss the postseason. But he was back at practice the following week and shined in postseason, catching a touchdown pass in three of the four playoff games.

Midway through the regular season, no one was surprised by UMass's success. Yet it wasn't supposed to happen in the postseason.

Not against McNeese State, last season's runner-up and this year's preseason pick to win it all. Or Northwestern State, whose only regular-season defeats were a 1-point loss to 12th-seeded Troy State and a 35-14 setback to Division 1-A Missouri.

UMass entered the championship game having beaten two higher-seeded teams on the opponents' home field and one previously unbeaten team.

''So many people were saying we're from the North, and we don't know how to play football,'' said tight end Kerry Taylor. ''We went down and took care of that.''

The Minutemen drew many detractors before Saturday's game. GSU had posted one of the most dominant seasons in 1-AA history, an option attack which set 49 offensive records, including 12 national 1-AA marks.

It ranked second in the nation in rushing (378.7 yards per game), and had scored 82 touchdowns. Moreover, GSU reached the finals with a 42-14 rout of Western Illinois, which had the best defense in 1-AA.

Yet the Minutemen proved early on they would give the Eagles their most formidable challenge of the year. The UMass charge was led by linebacker Kole Ayi, who pulled a chest muscle during the Lehigh game and didn't practice for Northwestern State. Against GSU, he had 10 tackles and three fumble recoveries.

And despite giving up 595 yards total offense to the Eagles, the Minutemen made crucial stops and collected seven turnovers to keep GSU from taking command. Even when the Eagles shut out UMass, 14-0, in the third quarter to pull to 38-33, UMass didn't falter, responding with two rushing touchdowns to put the game out of reach.

And that left GSU, a team which had just 20 turnovers all season, in a state of disbelief. When it was over, GSU coach Paul Johnson was asked if he felt the Minutemen's effort was indicative of a team of destiny.

''Something magical could have helped us drop the ball seven times, but I think it was their defense,'' he said. ''There's no question Coach Whipple's done a great job, and he should be coach of the year.''

After the contest, UMass players began to look to next season, anticipating a defense of their title.

UMass will need to fill the void created by the departures of cocaptains Samuel and Taylor but Todd Bankhead, Shipp, Zullo, and Ayi return and the Minutemen are expected to apply for a fifth year of eligibility for senior wideout Jimmy Moore, a Southern Methodist transfer.

''Hey, why not [win it all again]?'' said Ayi. ''We're going to have to work hard again. Maybe harder, because people are going to be looking for us.''


The best team in Massachusetts plays in Amherst
By Michael Holley, The Boston Globe Staff, 12/21/1998

Somewhere in your city, neighborhood, or house, someone is looking at the University of Massachusetts football team and saying, ''Who cares?''

The Minutemen are the best team in the country, the champions of Division 1-AA. They scored the most points in the history of a 1-AA championship game and had a running back, Marcel Shipp, rush for more yards than anyone else in a title game. Ever. But there is no Rose or Sugar Bowl in 1-AA, so many people mistakenly think that it doesn't take much to win a championship against the Georgia Southerns and McNeese States, schools that most of us associate with ESPN2 at 2 a.m. People think they can gather a bunch of guys from Home Depot and knock off the 1-AA champions.

Those who think that can't imagine what it's like to see outside linebacker Kole Ayi speeding past an offensive lineman, with intentions of quickly introducing himself to the quarterback. The sophomore from Nashua, N.H., did that a lot during the Minutemen's season. He will do it for two more seasons in Amherst. And, yes, he'll eventually do it for some team in the NFL.

This is why you should care about these guys: They are the top local story of the year.

I know that Pat Burns inherited a terrible Bruins team and took it to the playoffs. I know this is the year when the Patriots announced they were leaving the state; when you and I can say, right now, that we make much more money than pro basketball players; when a Red Sox team won 92 games, went to the playoffs, and said goodbye to Mo.

But those are all pro stories. And those are all stories that lack one element: a national title. UMass can say it has one. The Minutemen also have some history with 1978. In the same year that the Sox lost a one-game playoff to the Yankees, the Minutemen lost the first 1-AA title to Florida A&M. Twenty years later, one team has shaken itself from the clutches of a jinx.

Sometimes it's tough to be a college athlete in Massachusetts and Greater Boston. Professional sports rule. It's fair to say that we could represent our colleges better, no? Rick Pitino used to go crazy as a young coach at Boston University in the early 1980s. Back then, the current Celtics coach was experimenting with a manic basketball system where guards could wind up playing forward and forwards might be asked to lead the fast break. The early version of PitinoBall might as well have taken place in the coach's family room because not many people came to the games. The majority of fans waited several years later and paid $50 per ticket per night to see Pitino at the FleetCenter. They could have seen him in the early years on the cheap and been able to put his system into better context.

Photo
Mark Whipple gets a well-deserved hug.Union-News photo / Nathan Martin
If you didn't get a chance to see UMass this season, promise yourself that you will check them out next year. If you don't do it then, you most certainly will miss the Mark Whipple Era. He may not be the Pitino of his league, but if he wants, this guy will definitely be a 1-A school's head coach or offensive coordinator before the 21st century. If someone didn't know football and asked me to show them why people get excited about it, I would tell them to watch a game coached by Whipple.

He is that friend of yours who, on a whim, says, ''Hey, ever been to the Grand Canyon? Wanna go? I'll meet you at your house in 15 minutes.'' You should have seen the man's offense Saturday in Chattanooga. The Minutemen won the game, 55-43, and probably could have scored 70 (seriously) if they hadn't been careless with the ball. Whipple called a fullback option in the national title game. He called for a fake punt in the first half and the team made it. He had his team line up for an onside kick in the first half, something that had the visitors calling him a lot worse things than ''Yankee.'' He did not necessarily run to set up the pass or pass to set up the run. He just brought out a weighty offensive package and said to Georgia Southern, ''All right, boys. Stop this.''

It was obvious that Southern could not stop it. The end zones at Finley Stadium face a hill and a street, respectively. There is no protective net behind the goal posts to catch kicked footballs. Each time UMass scored, the ball would sail onto the hill or into the street on the extra-point attempt. The first few times that happened, anxious children ran to retrieve the balls. But finally they tired themselves out because there was so much scoring.

That was just one of the refreshing sights of UMass's title chase. The Minutemen were able to see the red-clay dirt of the South. They were able to humble several communities which collectively asked, ''Where exactly is UMass?'' They faced a frighteningly fast Georgia Southern quarterback named Greg Hill. Their receivers got the chance to line up against a defensive back named Earthwind ''Shining Star'' Moreland, whose parents are obviously 1970s rhythm and blues fans. And, most important, they were able to alter 10 championship game records Saturday, including Shipp's 244 rushing yards.

As Aretha would say, UMass deserves its propers. It went from a bad team to a title team in just one season. Those who missed it should remember that there is only one thing worse than that: Missing it again next year.


Minuteman celebration is a hot one
By Frank Dell'Apa, The Boston Globe Staff, 12/21/1998

AMHERST - After the University of Massachusetts football team defeated Lehigh in the NCAA Division 1-AA quarterfinals, fans tore down the goal post in the north end zone at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

Early yesterday morning, they eliminated the south end zone goal post. Then, they lit a bonfire near the athletic facilities building, attracting the attention of the Amherst Fire Department.

The dismantling of the second goal post was a tribute to UMass's win in Saturday's national championship game in Chattanooga. The fire was a part of the welcoming celebration, and also an attempt to warm the fans who had waited three hours for the team to arrive.

''We expected to come in and just go to bed,'' Kole Ayi said. ''We were tired and it was all quiet on the bus. Then, we got to the stadium and saw all these people and got fired up again. People were jumping on me and trying to put me up on their shoulders. I wasn't worried. If we had lost, I would have been worried because they might have lynched us.''

The crowd, estimated between 200 and 300 by law enforcement officials, was festive. So were the celebrations at Pierpont dormitory, where smoke alarms were activated, according to Amherst Fire Department chief Timothy Atteridge.

''The bonfire was a small thing, about 4 feet by a foot and a half,'' Atteridge said. ''It was part of the cheering, and they booed us when we arrived. It was in the parking lot, but open fires are not allowed without a permit and the police couldn't ignore it. We were on the scene at 3:07 and we left at 3:18 a.m.''

Photo
Minuteman fans swarm the team bus as it arrives back on campus.AP photo
The Minuteman bus arrived at 3:17, about 10 hours after UMass defeated Georgia Southern, and nearly collided with the departing fire truck. Fans at the UMass-Detroit basketball game were told that the football team would be arriving after midnight.

''We went there at 12:30,'' UMass student Matthew Bleau said. ''We were going to meet the team even if they lost. It was really exciting. I wanted to congratulate Kole and give him a hug.''

By then, most of the town had shut down.

''The students were in here celebrating, watching the game,'' said J.T. Thorpe, bartender and manager at Rafter's on University Drive. ''It's good for UMass, but we didn't know what time they were coming back and we had to close, so the team couldn't come here even if they had wanted to.''

Denise Gibavic left husband Paul and two teenage daughters at home to greet the team.

''My husband is a fan, but not that much of a fan,'' Gibavic said. ''I've been going to games since I was a sophomore in high school.

''It was a good time, and I didn't feel threatened. Everybody crowded around and hugged the players. I stood back and watched. The players looked like they were really tired.

''I would have gone even if they hadn't won. I was really surprised by the season. I didn't know about [coach] Mark Whipple before this, but this season was a wild one.''


Satisfying feeling for UMass
By Jeff Thomas, The Springfield Union-News Staff Writer, 12/21/1998

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - No rest for the road weary.

One day after concluding one of the greatest turnarounds in college football history, the University of Massachusetts coaching staff is already back on the road to make up lost time in recruiting.

The Minutemen returned home late Saturday night after their stunning 55-43 win over top-ranked and previously undefeated Georgia Southern in the NCAA Division I-AA football national championship game.

UMass rose from last season's 2-9 record to 12-2 this season, which included four playoff victories. Only Montana State in 1984 had a bigger turnaround, winning the national title with a 12-2 mark after going 1-10 the previous season.

"It feels very satisfying, but it hasn't sunk in yet," UMass senior linebacker Khari Samuel said. "We set our goal to win the national championship - that's why we came to UMass."

Along the way the Minutemen broke dozens of school records under first-year coach Mark Whipple and brought home the school's first national championship trophy.

Among the 33 team records tied or set this season were: most wins in a season (12), most postseason wins (4), most points in a season (524), most total yards in a season (7,074), most wins over ranked opponents (6), most touchdowns in a season (77), most passing yards in a season (4,050) and most passing touchdowns in a season (37).

The Minutemen also set 17 individual game, single season and career records and set or tied 28 postseason records.

One aspect of this season that has been overlooked was the number of road games UMass played. The national championship game was the ninth contest away from McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. Although the finale was considered a neutral site game, the proximity of Chattanooga to Georgia enabled the Eagles to feel at home with approximately 9,000 of the 17,501 rooting for them.

Georgia Southern, on the other hand, played 10 of its 15 games at home in Paulson Stadium.

"We've been in the routine, so this might have affected Georgia Southern more," Whipple said. "We've been on trips like this. This was not a big deal, it's just kind of what we've done."

Next season, the Minutemen will have to overcome the loss of 15 seniors from the title team, including All-Americans Samuel and Kerry Taylor, fullback Matt Jordan, center Deyate Hagood, punter Andrew Maclay, defensive back Mike Smith and wide receiver Jimmy Moore.

But there is talent waiting for a chance. Kion Copeland, a 6-foot-2 wide receiver recruited from Miami, will be available next season, as will offensive lineman Maikel Miret, 6-3, 275 pounds, also of Miami.

Also, Damon Robinson, a 6-4, 215-pound linebacker from Somerville, N.J., has potential, as does offensive lineman Craig Sporer of Elizabeth, N.J.

And based on what Whipple was able to do last year in recruiting, another strong class should be expected again and Saturday's national championship should help get UMass off to good start in 1999.

"Hey, why not?" said sophomore linebacker Kole Ayi of winning it again. "That's why you play the game. We will have to work much harder, and people will be gunning for us every week, but we go out to win every week."


Desire drives UMass
By John Connolly, The Boston Herald, 12/19/1998

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Right from the onset in Saturday's dramatic upset win by No. 11 seed UMass over previously unbeaten and top-ranked Georgia Southern, it was clear which team wanted the title more.

The Minutemen's vaunted Whiplash Offense, named after first-year coach Mark Whipple, opened with an intriguing play. It featured a funky formation involving a gapped line and three receivers slotted on a right side wing.

While the play - aptly named ``Chattanooga'' after the venue where it was unveiled - drew the anticipated oohs and ahhs from the Finley Stadium-Davenport Field crowd of 17,501, it did more to unnerve the psyche of the much-ballyhooed Eagles.

Photo
Todd Bankhead (center) celebrates with his mother Marilyn and defensive back Willie Hemmer.
Jerrey Roberts, Daily Hampshire Gazette, photo
The play worked for a 4-yard pickup on a simple toss from superb junior quarterback Todd Bankhead (17-of-25 for 152 yards) to start a seven-play, 67-yard march that culminated in a 25-yard scoring scamper by sophomore tailback Marcel Shipp, the first of three TD runs on the afternoon for the sensational Patterson, N.J., product.

The die was cast.

On a day on which all weapons were displayed, UMass seemed to have one more bullet in its chamber all day.

The 55 points were the most allowed to a Div. 1-AA team by a Georgia Southern team since the school reinstituted its football program prior to the 1982 season.

With four national titles (1985-86, 1989-90) on their resume, the Eagles (14-1) were denied a sixth, owed mostly to seven turnovers, including a school-record six fumbles.

The Minutemen (12-3), whose point total matched the season high against Maine (55-34) on Nov. 14, were on a roll.

A key came when UMass special teams standout Dan Healey of Marblehead downed an Andy Maclay punt at the Georgia 2, and the Minutemen defense, led by sophomore linebacker Kole Ayi of Nashua, N.H., went to work.

On the Eagles' first play, junior quarterback Greg Hill fumbled. Ayi, who shared game-high honors for tackles (10) with senior co-captain Khari Samuel of Framingham, recovered and ran it back for a quick, two-touchdown lead.

``When (Whipple) came in and set our goals so high it brought out the best in us,'' Ayi said. ``Whenever we had to battle through adversity, we remembered our goals.''

Trick plays, fake punts - all were in the UMass deck of cards.

After Hill rushed for a 40-yard keeper to cut the gap to 14-7, Samuel and Ayi teamed to cause Eagles freshman tailback Adrian Peterson to fumble, with Ayi recovering.

On the next play, junior fullback Jamie Holston of Pepperell found speedy freshman wideout Adrian Zullo for a bobbling catch in the end zone.

Each time GS theatened, the Minutemen responded. With UMass ahead 24-14 with eight minutes left in the second quarter, Whipple went for a fake punt on fourth down.

The snap went to senior fullback Matt Jordan of Derry, N.H., who bulled for 6 yards to midfield and the first down. Bankhead scored from the 1 eight plays later and the margin was 31-14 in favor of the heavily underdog Minutemen, who were but 2-9 just one year ago.

``We wanted to be aggressive,'' said Whipple. ``We wanted the kids to play to win, not go out there and try not to lose. We told them we would play our style and have some fun.''

The win represented the first title in football for UMass, which lost, 35-28, to Florida A&M in the very first NCAA Division 1-AA championship in Wichita Falls, Texas, 20 years ago.

And Whipple became the second coach in the last three years to capture the national title in his first year at a school, joining Marshall's Bob Pruett.

The Minutemen avoided all the pregame hoopla and maintained their focus against a team that had surrendered a total of 13 fumbles through 14 games before coughing up six against UMass.

``We read all week that we did not have a chance and we were really motivated by that,'' Whipple said.

``They just wanted it more than anyone in the country and that's why they're No. 1.''


UMass takes the title, 55-43
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 12/21/1998

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - With just over a minute left in the game, reserve University of Massachusetts defensive back Tehran Hunter couldn't stand still. He paced the sidelines and yelled, "We did it baby. National champions."

UMass took a big lead early and withstood a late charge by Georgia Southern as the 11th-seeded Minutemen upset the No. 1 and previously undefeated Eagles to win the program's first Division 1-AA national championship, 55-43, Saturday.

"Our philosophy all week was that Georgia Southern really deserved to be No. 1, but the only reason they deserved to be No. 1 was that they hadn't played UMass," said Minuteman coach Mark Whipple.

The clock never struck midnight on UMass' Cinderella season as the Minutemen (12-3) completed one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of college sports going from 2-9 a year ago to the title.

"This is unbelievable," said junior quarterback Todd Bankhead, smiling broadly under his new "UMass National Champions" hat. "I can't even describe this season and the guys here and the way things have come together. It's by far the tightest team, I've ever been a part of. It's incredible."

Photo
Cornerback Jerald White celebrates with the UMass faithful.Union-News photo / Nathan Martin
"It really hasn't sunk in yet," said senior captain Khari Samuel. "It's the greatest thing I've ever done at UMass. I'm just proud of everything. We've been through so much and we've just risen above it."

The title is UMass' first in any team sport since 1981, when the women's lacrosse team won the championship under coach Pam Hixon.

After leading by 24, (38-14) late in the second quarter, UMass surrendered 19 straight points and it appeared as if the favored Eagles (14-1) might take over the game when they trailed by just 38-33.

But the Minutemen answered with a 72-yard drive capped by a two-yard touchdown run by Kevin Quinlan to extend their lead to 45-33. Georgia Southern never got any closer.

"I was proud of how the kids came out and played," Whipple said. "You always worry in a big game that you're going to be a little off kilter, but we were really at a high level."

Photo
The Minutemen recover one of six Eagle fumbles.
Jerrey Roberts, Daily Hampshire Gazette, photo
The Eagles' sixth fumble of the day may have been their costliest. Trying to trim the UMass lead again, Georgia Southern quarterback Greg Hill coughed up the ball after scampering seven yards and Minuteman corner Brian Smith recovered at the Eagles' 42. With the exception of an incomplete pass, Marcel Shipp carried the load on the drive, ending it with a two-yard touchdown run to make it 52-33.

"We dug such a hole that we could not climb out of it. We had momentum when we cut the lead to 38-33. They came right at us with a good drive. That took away our momentum," said Georgia Southern coach Paul Johnson. "We haven't had a game like this all season. We self-destructed and they capitalized. Give them all the credit, but we did not execute Sunday."

The two teams traded field goals leaving UMass ahead 55-36 with 2:21 left.

Georgia Southern scored a desperation TD with just over a minute left, but the onside kick rolled out of bounds. Bankhead genuflected twice to run out the clock.

Photo
Kole Ayi celebrates his second fumble recovery.
Jerrey Roberts, Daily Hampshire Gazette, photo
Shipp led the Minutemen with 35 carries for 244 yards and three touchdowns, while Kole Ayi led the defense with 10 tackles and three fumble recoveries.

Seven turnovers by Eagles

UMass came out of the gate quickly, taking advantage of seven Eagle turnovers. After Quinlan returned the opening kickoff 27 yards to the Minuteman 33, the offense went to work. Mixing Bankhead passes with runs by Shipp, UMass systematically marched 67 yards into the end zone, as Shipp scored on a 25-yard run to put the Minutemen ahead 7-0, 12:56 into the game.

UMass couldn't take advantage of a Georgia Southern fumble on the Eagles' first drive as the Minutemen were forced to punt. from their own 40, but a brilliant special teams tackle by Dan Healey pinned returner Corey Joyner on his own nine.

On the next play, Hill tried to pitch to his right, but Ayi anticipated the move and stepped in, knocked it down, scooped it up and walked into the end zone giving UMass a 14-0 lead with 8:29 remaining.

"The quarterback just put that in front of me," Ayi said. "That was probably one of the easiest plays I ever made."

The Eagles got on the board a short time later, when Hill elected to keep the ball and used great blocking en route to a 40-yard touchdown scamper to make the score 14-7

After the UMass offense couldn't produce a first down, Andy Maclay's punt landed at the Georgia Southern three-yard-line, where Healey downed it. The Eagles' fumble problems continued there as freshman fullback Adrian Peterson coughed up the ball going across the middle.

Ayi recovered again to give the visitors a first-and-goal at the Eagle seven. Whipple reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out a fullback pass, as Jamie Holston's toss got batted around in the end zone, but settled in Adrian Zullo's hands to put UMass ahead 21-7.

Hill's nightmarish first quarter continued as he fumbled again four plays later at the UMass 32, where Dan Schneider recovered. UMass moved the ball 53 yards to the five, where Jason Cherry nailed a 22-yard field goal to put UMass ahead 24-7 with 14:46 left in the second quarter.

Ayi recovered yet another fumble, but Shipp returned the favor, as his fumble gave the Georgia Southern the ball on UMass 37. The Eagles capitalized when Hill hit Joyner in the back of the end zone with a three-yard TD pass to cut the Minuteman lead to 21-14.

But UMass counterpunched with a 12-play 64-yard drive that included a six-yard fake punt by Matt Jordan and finished on a one-yard QB keeper by Bankhead into the end zone for a TD that gave the Minutemen a 31-14 lead.

Hill threw an interception on the next Eagle drive, as he was picked off by Jerard White on third-and-6 at the Georgia Southern 28. Shipp extended the Minuteman lead to 38-14 with 4:09 left in the half.

Peterson, who had been ineffective for most of the first half found his rhythm on Georgia Southern's next drive. He accounted for 51 of the Eagles' 55 yards and dove over the goal line for a one-yard TD making it 38-21 with 1:57 left in the half.

UMass manufactured a hurry-up drive deep into Georgia Southern territory, but Jimmy Moore lost his footing and dropped the ball as he fell. The Eagles recovered to end the UMass drive and send the game to half-time.

Second-half break

Georgia Southern caught a break on its first drive of the second half. The replay showed that Hill's knee had touched the ground behind the line of scrimmage on a fourth-and-one, but the officials ruled he was still up and he broke tackles for a 16-yard gain. It kept alive the drive, which resulted in a five-yard TD run by Peterson. Chris Chambers missed the point-after try to make the score 38-27.

Hindered by a sack and a fumble they recovered themselves for a loss, the Minutemen went three-and-out, but a 69-yard Maclay punt pinned the Eagles at their own two.

UMass couldn't slow Georgia Southern's running attack as the Eagles marched 14 plays, including 13 on the ground, into the end zone. The extra point was unsuccessful again, but the Eagles pulled within five at 38-33 with 41 seconds left in the third quarter.

But UMass answered with two more touchdowns and a field goal to wrap up the title. That gave Samuel and the other Minuteman seniors a rare chance to finish their careers with a win.

"It feels very satisfying," Samuel said. "I'm just taking a deep breath and exhaling. I've finally achieved the things I wanted to achieve as a player. I wouldn't have wanted to go out any other way."


First championship in 17 years
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 12/21/1998

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - For the first time in 17 years, there will be a new national championship trophy on display in Amherst, as the 11th-seeded University of Massachusetts football team capped its improbable run through the Division 1-AA playoffs with a convincing 55-43 upset win Saturday over No. 1 and previously undefeated Georgia Southern at Finley Stadium.

Photo
Marcel Shipp and Mark Whipple are all smiles at the post-game press conference.
Jerrey Roberts, Daily Hampshire Gazette, photo
"This is a great great day for UMass," Minuteman coach Mark Whipple said. You have to credit these kids so much. They just wanted it. They wanted it more than anything, more than anyone else in the country. That's why they're national champions."

The Minutemen jumped out to an early lead taking advantage of four first-quarter Georgia Southern turnovers to take a 21-7 lead. UMass extended the margin to 38-21 at half-time.

The Eagles tried to gain momentum by scoring the first 12 points of the second half, but UMass answered with the next 14 and cruised the rest of the way to begin the celebration.

"This is unreal," said sophomore running back Marcel Shipp, who admitted that he probably wouldn't quit smiling until football camp next summer. "I feel great about this win. We deserve it. We deserve this championship. We're going to get respect after this one."

As Athletic Director Bob Marcum looked on, he got caught up in the emotion of the event.

"Tears come to your eyes. It's just pure joy. This thing is like 'Hoosiers', the movie about basketball in Indiana," Marcum said. "If you're a national champion in something, that's special. I don't care if its the national champion in playing marbles. To look up there and see... UMass 1998 Division 1-AA national champions is special."

For Marcum, who played football at Marshall University, the victory offers a chance for UMass to upgrade its to football program on both minor and major levels.

"When you look at 1-A, we've always said you have to be good in 1-AA and I don't think you can be any better in 1-AA than what was accomplished Sunday," Marcum said. "As far as the 1-A situation, you still need a place to go. You need a conference. But the biggest thing about Sunday is that we have to approach this as a commitment to football.

"We can't take a national championship and just rest on our laurels," Marcum continued. "We need to look at football at UMass not as an expense, but as an investment."

Most Minutemen were too wrapped up in Saturday's exultation to even think about Sunday, let alone the future of the program, but sophomore Kole Ayi allowed himself a little peek into the future. When asked what UMass' goal would be next year, he spoke of the aspiration the Minutemen had denied Georgia Southern.

"You step on the field to win every game," Ayi said. "We'll have to work again, maybe harder because people will be looking for us. We're out there to win every game."

Next season starts in 36 weeks.


Fans greet returning champs
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 12/21/1998

AMHERST - A year ago, the University of Massachusetts football team could hardly lure a few hundred students to Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday afternoons in the fall.

But just eight hours after the Minutemen stunned the college football world Saturday, beating Georgia Southern 55-43 for the NCAA 1-AA national championship, twice as many fans flocked to the old stadium gates in the early hours Sunday morning to pay tribute to the greatest UMass football season ever.

Just wanting to be a part of something wonderful - the thrill of excellence - waves of students and former students and future students and parents began gathering before 1:30 a.m., after hearing the Minutemen would arrive at 2 a.m.

Some students stormed the field, where UMass won four games this season, tore down a goal post, and ran loose with it, chanting "UConn Sucks" and "Georgia Southern Sucks."

The celebration finally moved to behind the south end zone, where some 500 fans stood on cars, and cheered away the bitter cold temperatures which sank below freezing.

"It's all about school spirit here," said Brett Baxt, a sophomore at UMass. "We're national champions."

Small conversations here and there, between young and old, examined the genius of coach Mark Whipple. How a critical fake punt call in the first half changed the face of the game. How UMass kept their composure even when Georgia Southern cut the lead to five points in the third quarter.

"This guy (Whipple) is the greatest," said Dan Burns, a student at Greenfield Community College. "He's a God. (Former UMass basketball coach) John Calipari wasn't even this big. He couldn't bring home a championship."

Even when UMass Police announced the Minutemen's arrival had been delayed - again - the UMass contingent stayed, and waited it out.

The Minutemen were originally scheduled to arrive between midnight and 1 a.m., but a flight delay pushed it back to 2 a.m.

"This is the greatest thing that's happened to me in four years here," said Keith Haroutunian, a senior at UMass. "Forget that Final Four thing."

"This is something special," said Matt Dailey, a UMass junior. "No football team in New England has ever won a national championship, as far as I know."

In the wait, one student let out a cry for Kole Ayi, the sophomore linebacker who recovered three fumbles in the championship game, including one for a touchdown.

Almost immediately, the deafening accolades began.

"M-V-P. M-V-P."

At 3:22 a.m., their MVP arrived.

With a police escort siren's ushering them into the stadium, three UMass buses turned the corner where a mob scene awaited them.

One by one, the national champs stepped off their buses into the arms of excited fans.

As the Minutemen proceeded to their locker room, some fans sprayed champagne and others hugged players they hardly knew, or didn't know at all.

Mim Hill, a senior offensive lineman, unveiled the championship plaque to a rousing ovation.

Outside the locker room, television cameras caught Ayi in a crowd of 30 fans, who tried to pick him up, but failed.

Ayi, with a kid-in-the-candy-store smile, was shocked by the fan reaction.

"It's 3:30 in the morning. We figured everybody would be sleeping or passed out by now," Ayi said.

"This is a mob scene. That crowd out there, they were trying to kill me. I love it," Ayi said after admitting he wasn't used to getting that kind of attention.

Khari Samuel, though, is used to attention. The senior linebacker who played through a few tough seasons at UMass was in awe at Saturday's turnout.

"The crowd is really behind us. It's all about UMass football out there," Samuel said.

But the man they came to see didn't come out for a few minutes. Whipple was giving his players one last hug and wishing them a happy holiday.

"This is all so overwhelming," Whipple said. "It seemed like just another game, the way we played today."

Whipple said that after a long day, the team was energized at the sight of the crowd. "They were ecstatic when we turned the corner. It was a great feeling to see everyone."


UMass faithful get wanted gift
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 12/21/1998

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - The family of University of Massachusetts senior defensive back Mike Smith was thinking ahead a week as they held up their banner up at the beginning of Saturday's Division 1-AA final.

The sign read: "Dear Santa, The only gift the Smiths want is a National Championship."

Two fans wearing Georgia Southern attire walked by and laughed.

"Bah humbug," one said to another pointing at the sign.

Photo
The UM fans who made the trip were happy they went.
Jerrey Roberts, Daily Hampshire Gazette, photo
The UMass fans, who were outnumbered 10-to-1 by the Eagle faithful who came a shorter distance, had heard similar and worse taunts all week anytime they ventured out clad in maroon and white.

However, the taunts and the Georgia Southern fans were nowhere to be found after the Minutemen's 55-43 championship win. The UMass faithful were too busy experiencing the pure joy of the school's first national title in anything since 1981.

Before the game was over, UMass had opened up a comfortable enough lead to begin the sideline celebration. Several Minutemen removed their helmets and faced the stands, where their parents snapped photographs sure to be on display at next weekend's Christmas parties.

Defensive coordinator Don Brown got the first Gatorade shower, before Minuteman head coach Mark Whipple and several other assistants got their championship baptisms.

When the gun finally sounded, the players rushed the field where newly minted "UMass National Champion" T-shirts and hats were haphazardly handed out.

The players hugged each other, the coaching staff, and their parents who had joined the on-field celebration. When they ran out of those people, they hugged each other's parents.

Even Whipple, who rarely displays emotion, had tears in his eyes as player after player embraced him.

"I'm so happy for our seniors," Whipple said. "They were all thanking me and I thanked them back. To see them happy ... it's like seeing my son on Christmas opening presents. To make people happy gives me the greatest joy. To see people sincerely happy for one another is just tremendous joy."

Players went out of their way to seek out ex-coach Mike Hodges, who has been an enthusiastic supporter of his former charges all season.

The merry-making moved from the center of the field to the north end zone where the Minutemen were awarded the national championship trophy. Players took turns holding it, some holding it above their heads, others quietly embracing it - the embodiment of their dreams.

When junior Chris Price got his turn, tears welled up in his eyes. He slowly pulled it toward him and kissed it.

After the game, Mike Smith joined his family to take a picture with the sign, while many of his teammates posed nearby with the national championship trophy.

The only gift the Smiths want is a national championship...

Merry Christmas.


A record-breaking season
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 12/21/1998

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - With 244 yards on the ground in Saturday's 55-43 win over Georgia Southern for the Division 1-AA national championship, Marcel Shipp put an appropriate ending on a record-breaking season.

Early in the fourth quarter, both Shipp and Georgia Southern quarterback Greg Hill had broken the rushing record for the national championship game, previously held by Florida A&M's Mike Solomon in 1978 when the Rattlers beat UMass.

Hill and Shipp alternated as the record holder for a stretch during the second half, before Shipp pulled away when Hill was forced to pass in a comeback attempt. Hill finished with 228 rushing yards.

Saturday brings Shipp's season total to 2,592, the first Minuteman ever to rush for more than 2,500 yards.

Shipp also extended his streak of rushing for more than 100 yards to 12 games, another UMass record.

The two teams snapped the total-points record for the championship game with 98, while UMass' 55 was a single-team record.

UMass kicker Jason Cherry's seven extra points were also a championship game record.

* * *

Several other Minutemen put their final touches on record-breaking seasons Saturday.

Junior quarterback Todd Bankhead finished the season with UMass single-season records in yardage (3,919), touchdown passes (34), completions (303) and attempts (525).

Sophomore Kole Ayi added 10 tackles to his already record-setting total, giving him 117 on the season, the most ever by a Minuteman.

In just one year as a Minuteman, wide receiver Jimmy Moore has collected quite a collection of records. The Southern Methodist transfer set marks for catches (92), touchdown receptions (16) and yards (1,431).

Khari Samuel will leave Amherst as UMass' all-time leader in solo tackles with 324 after making seven Saturday.

The team's 12 wins are also a UMass single-season record.

Photo
The Minuteman Marching Band.
Jerrey Roberts, Daily Hampshire Gazette, photo
* * *

The Minutemen marching band made the trip to Chattanooga and set up sleeping arrangements on a local gymnasium floor Friday. This is the first time the band had flown to a game since 1964.

"Band members were ecstatic to be able to perform and cheer on the UMass team," said director George Parks.

"When our band walked in, I thought that really helped us," coach Mark Whipple said. "Georgia Southern's people were loud. Then all of a sudden our band started walking in. The crowd started watching and our Minutemen kept coming and coming. I really appreciated that support from our university."


NCAA                  1  2  3  4   F 

Geo Southern 7 14 12 10 43 Massachusetts 21 17 0 17 55 FINAL Massachusetts-Shipp 25 run (Cherry kick) Massachusetts-Ayi 9 fumble return (Cherry kick) Geo Southern-Hill 40 run (Chambers kick) Massachusetts-Zullo 7 pass from Holston (Cherry kick) Massachusetts-FG Cherry 22 Geo Southern-Joyner 6 pass from Hill (Chambers kick) Massachusetts-Bankhead 1 run (Cherry kick) Massachusetts-Shipp 4 run (Cherry kick) Geo Southern-Peterson 1 run (Chambers kick) Geo Southern-Peterson 5 run (kick failed) Geo Southern-Hill 2 run (two-point conversion failed) Massachusetts-K Quinlan 2 run (Cherry kick) Massachusetts-Shipp 2 run (Cherry kick) Geo Southern-FG Chambers 38 Massachusetts-FG Cherry 25 Geo Southern-Revere 29 run (Chambers kick) Geo Southern Massachusetts First downs 26 23 Rushed-yards 65-457 51-303 Passing yards 138 159 Sacked-yards lost 1-6 1-7 Return yards 38 12 Passes 10-21-1 18-26-0 Punts 1-35.0 4-51.0 Fumbles-lost 6-6 3-2 Penalties-yards 5-51 6-45 Time of possession 30:48 29:12 Individual Statistics RUSHING: Geo Southern-Hill 29-228, Peterson 28-161, Revere 3-43, B Cunningham 2-8, Freeman 1-8, Grace 1-5, Joyner 1-4. Massachusetts-Shipp 35-244, K Quinlan 5-32, Jordan 5-28, Zullo 1-14, Bankhead 5-minus 15. PASSING: Geo Southern-Hill 8-16-1-111, Revere 2-5-0-27. Massachusetts-Bankhead 17-25-0-152, Holston 1-1-0-7. RECEIVING: Geo Southern-Joyner 6-94, Peterson 2-15, Morgan 1-16, Parham 1-13. Massachusetts-Moore 6-63, Taylor 4-22, Shipp 3-38, Jordan 3-22, Zullo 2-14. Att: 17,501


Back to the home page

Click Here to Visit Our Sponsor