This is just my fourth season handling the primary coverage of the UConn football team so I don't have the same historical perspective as others who cover the Huskies but I think you would be hard pressed to find a scene anywhere close to what happened as the final seconds ticked off the Rentschler Field scoreboard yesterday since the Huskies began playing their home games in East Hartford.
The players gathered at the center of field, letting all the emotions pour out. Speaking of pouring out, fans kept coming onto the field in waves joining the celebration after the 20-17 victory over No. 13 Houston. Wins have been hard to come by for the Huskies in recent years and this one had to taste extra sweet especially to the seniors.
"Just to see the UConn fans storm the field, it was a great feeling overall to beat a ranked opponent, to see the love that the fans provided for us," UConn senior safety Andrew Adams said. "They were loud throughout the whole game, in the end when we took it and they stormed the field it was an unbelievable sight, that is a sight that I will never forget.
"It kind of sunk in but once I go home, lay down and it will really sink in. Once I wake up tomorrow, it will really hit me."
After leaving the field and addressing the team, a beaming Bob Diaco made his way into the press conference. The first thing he did was mention that this had to be a special moment with his wife among those in the room and then he was quick to note to appearance of UConn president Susan Herbst as well.
Diaco believes that the win could be "a catalyst" to what he is trying to build but he was also quick to stay in the moment and who could blame him because what a moment it was after the Huskies posted their third win over a ranked opponent since making the transition to the FBS level and became bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.
"It was so great," Diaco said. "I was a little claustrophobic. I am not a big crowd type of guy but it was good. They were trying to mess my hair up."
The natural follow-up question was whether the fans were successful in that endeavor.
"It refuses to go any other way, I just whistle and it goes right back."
If Diaco was ecstatic, imagine what AD Warde Manuel was feeling. He was the one who pulled the plug on the Paul Pasqualoni era after an embarrassing loss at Buffalo (where Manuel used to work) dropped the Huskies to 0-4 at the start of the 2013 season. A national search resulted in Manuel bringing in the highly-touted former Notre Dame defensive coordinator to turn things around.
After a 2-10 season, it was clear Diaco had plenty of work to be done. Even this year when the Huskies dropped back to back games to USF and Cincinnati to fall to 3-5, the prospects of playing in a bowl game seemed bleak. That is what made what took place yesterday all the more special to the players, coaches and administrators.
"I am happy for this team and happy for our coaches and all of our fans," Manuel said. "Part of it is to go through the process, work through it and believing as Bob said in the process and having belief in it."
Before the game the seniors were honored as they played their final game at Rentschler Field. Team leaders like Adams, Julian Campenni, Marquise Vann, Graham Stewart, Max DeLorenzo, Kenton Adeyemi and Tyler Samra walked away with a home finale none of them will ever forget.
"They have been through so much, I don't know how many head coaches, even a stadium name change I can't explain how much they have been through," said UConn sophomore linebacker Luke Carrezola, who had two sacks. "They had done such a good job and I am happy to be a part of it."
Manuel made sure to seek out the seniors before and after the game.
"I spoke to them before the game that I was proud of them and that they have one, two or three more games depending on how they played tonight to finish this off and after the game I reiterated that, they have been through a lot of changes, to transition and lead the way the seniors have done, I can't be more happy for them."
He was also happy for Diaco.
"You believe in what people are presenting and what they are telling you and the one thing about Bob is he hasn't changed in his plan and his thoughts about how to get there," Manuel said. "He has adjusted but we all need to adjust in life. He had a plan, he had a vision of what this team could accomplish and working with him has been a pleasure and a pleasure to watch he and is coaches and the student-athletes work the way they have."
Now for some notes off the game.
This is the third time since the start of the 2009 season that UConn didn't allow a sack or commit a turnover. The other two came in a 45-10 win over Memphis in the 2013 finale and in a 29-27 win over South Florida in the 2009 regular-season finale.
With seven tackles Adams moved by three players including current Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz and into 23rd place on UConn's career tackles list. He needs eight more to become the 23rd UConn player with 250 career tackles and the eighth to do it since UConn's move to the FBS level.
Arkeel Newsome surpassed the 1,500-yard mark in all-purpose yards. The only other players to do it since UConn moved to FBS are Jordan Todman in 2009 and 2010 and Donald Brown in 2008.
Player Year Rush Rec PR KO Total
Donald Brown 2008 2083 125 0 0 2208
Jordan Todman 2009 1188 185 0 506 1879
Jordan Todman 2010 1695 94 0 55 1844
Arkeel Newsome 2015 759 426 0 376 1561
Terry Caulley 2002 1247 205 0 0 1452
Cornell Brockington 2004 1218 231 0 0 1449