EAST HARTFORD— The streak is over.
After 16 quarters, 51 drives and 109 unanswered points by their respective opponents, it finally happened.
UConn football scored a touchdown.
Running back Arkeel Newsome broke through the line of scrimmage and stumbled before regaining his footing and ripping off a 60-yard touchdown run with 6:55 in the third quarter for the Huskies’ first touchdown since the first half of their 24-16 loss to UCF on Oct. 22.
“We had run the play a few times before and the coaches coached me up on it,” Newsome said of his touchdown run. “I did everything they told me to do and it sprung me open. It helped me out a lot. I think my confidence is up.”
Over the course of that four-game span of offensive ineptitude, spanning from the second half of the UCF loss to the first half of Saturday’s 38-13 loss to Tulane. In that 16-quarter span, UConn was outscored 133-3 by their opponents before Newsome’s touchdown ended the drought. In their last four games, all losses, the Huskies (3-9, 1-7 the American) were outscored 130-16.
“It was definitely rough and frustrating but we never gave up,” Newsome said of the scoring woes.
UConn’s plan to overcome their offensive woes was simple: incorporate the run game and put the ball in the hands of standout skill players like Newsome and wide receiver Noel Thomas. Newsome certainly did his part with 170 rushing yards and a score as well as two receptions for 28 yards, one of which accounted for the Huskies’ second touchdown of the day. Overall, Newsome contributed 198 of UConn’s 308 yards of total offense and the team’s only touchdowns in the month of November.
Thomas finished his record-setting season on a high note, hauling in nine passes from freshman quarterback Donovan Williams for 60 yards, even throwing an 11-yard pass to Williams on a trick play in the first half and adding 20 rushing yards on three attempts. Thomas’ senior season concluded with a new single-season program record of 100 receptions as well as 1179 receiving and three touchdowns.
“We wanted to target Arkeel and Noel, and that was accomplished. Both had really strong days,” UConn head coach Bob Diaco said. “I do believe you need to be able to run the ball to win and have a real championship team.”
Melifonwu Shines Bright on Senior Day
On the day where 18 of UConn’s seniors for honored prior to their final home game at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, Diaco was noticeably upset following the final game of the season about sending them off on a low note.
“It was an incredible honor and that’s what hurts and I love them. It reciprocates back and they are good men,” Diaco said. “I just feel bad that the year went the way it did for them.”
Amongst the sadness and disappointment that the loss to Tulane brought, one senior stood out amongst the rest, making history in his final game in East Hartford.
Safety Obi Melifonwu had high expectations cat upon him prior to this season, with Diaco constantly referring to the North Grafton, Massachusetts native as one of the best safeties in America.
He certainly lived up to those expectations Saturday night, putting an exclamation point on a standout senior season with program-record 24 tackles in the loss to the Green Wave.
“I never really know how many tackles I have at the end of the game, but I just go out there, flying around, trying to make plays,” Melifonwu said. “I didn’t know I had 24 tackles but it’s definitely something I’m proud of.”
Melifonwu finishes his 2016 season with 118 total tackles and four interceptions, both team-highs. He is the first Husky to lead the team in tackles and interceptions since linebacker Danny Lansanah did so in 2006.
With his spectacular senior season now behind him, Melifonwu has his sights set on playing at the next level and following in the footsteps of great UConn defensive backs such as former teammates Byron Jones and Andrew Adams. Melifonwu’s size, speed and overall athletic ability give him a chance of hearing his name called sooner rather than later in this year’s NFL draft.
“Obi is the very best safety in America, and I think he proved that this year in the games,” Diaco said. “He’s definitely going to prove it in his gym shorts and compression shirt and cleats. That’s for sure. But I felt like he put on the line in the games and performed at that level as it relates to safeties in America. He’s a great player.”