Emotional sendoff for UConn's seniors
It's safe to say that things have changed just a little bit in the last 12 months.
A spirited performance resulted in a 20-17 win over No. 13 and previously undefeated Houston team as the Huskies became bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.
The victory wasn't secured until sophomore cornerback Jamar Summers cradled a pass from Houston quarterback Greg Ward in the final minute, their dreams came true with a 20-17 victory over No. 13 Houston before a crowd of 26,879 at Rentschler Field on Saturday. The win enabled UConn to become bowl eligible for the first time since the 2010 season and allow the seniors to leave victorious in their home finale.
"Once I saw Jamar catch the pick, I said 'game over,'" UConn senior safety Andrew Adams said. "I saw the No. 2 receiver running down the field kind of open so I kind of leaned towards him, they threw it the other way. I look over and I see Jamar catch the ball I said 'thank you, thank you.'
"We wanted to win the game on defense, that is what we strive for, that is what we practice for. It is a challenge but we stepped to the plate."
Whether it was a game against Michigan in 2013, losses to Boise State and East Carolina a season ago or a near upset on the road against Missouri earlier this season, the Huskies simply couldn't seal the deal.
Perhaps some of those in the stands or watching at home cringed expecting the worst when Brandon Wilson's 94-yard kickoff return pulled the Cougars within three points with 9:36 to play.
Physical runs by Arkeel Newsome (114 rushing yards) and Ron Johnson allowed the Huskies to pick up a couple of first downs and take some time off the clock. But Houston, which came into the game average 511 yards and 43.5 points per game, would still get two more chance to steal away a victory to keep their dreams of an undefeated season alive.
An 18-yard pass from Ward, who came in for an injured Kyle Postma, to Demarcus Ayers had the Cougars about 30-35 yards away from being able to attempt a game-tying field goal. On the next play Ward, who is in the midst of a spectacular season but is hobbled by an ankle injury which knocked him out of last week's win over Memphis, underthrew a pass that Summer was able to pick off.
What followed was one of biggest outpouring of emotion at the end of a UConn football game.
"You immediately go to what makes a special moment, Senior Day is a special day but it is very forgettable if you don't win so to have Senior Day with their families and with that win, I know that is going to be a catalyst to so much success in the future," UConn coach Bob Diaco said.
"On just a DNA level, you get the feeling of accomplishment in that you made a great investment and with that great investment you get a a great return. You want to put more in to get more to get that feeling of return."
Diaco joked that he drew his players a sketch of the bowl game he would like to be a part in and let's just say that sun-drenched South Florida is his preferred destination.
"We can smell the salt in the air at bowl eligibility so 'Warde (Manuel, UConn's director of athletics), here we go, let's call all of your bodies and to the beach. We will pack our bathing suits and here we go."
There were so many stars in the game.
Newsome had 158 all-purpose yards as he joins Jordan Todman and Donald Brown as the only Huskies with 1,500 all-purpose yards in a season during UConn's time at the FBS level. Noel Thomas caught seven passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Tim Boyle came on in relief of an injured Bryant Shirreffs and did not turn the ball over while fellow quarterback turned fullback Garrett Anderson threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Thomas. Defensively, sophomores Luke Carrezola and Foley Fatukasi combined for three sacks. Classmates Junior Joseph and Cam Stapleton recovered fumbles while Adams had an interception. Also, punter Justin Wain had six of his nine punts inside the 20 while Bobby Puyol had a strong day on kickoffs and had a pair of field goals.
After the final whistle fans began pouring onto the field and the players welcomed the company as they jumped up and down celebrating the first win over a ranked team at home in eight years.
"We are in the history books now. Since I stepped foot on campus we haven't been to a bowl game, now we have," Adams said. "It is great to make history, see our team be happy, have fun and have success. As a leader of this team and it is a great feeling all around."
It was a costly win as Diaco believes the foot or ankle injury suffered by starting tight end Tommy Myers will end his season. Shirreffs was also knocked out of the game after taking a helmet to helmet shot from Houston linebacker Elandon Roberts, the leading tackler in the American Athletic Conference. Roberts was ejected for the hit which was ruled as targeting. Diaco believes Shirreffs will be OK.