EAST HARTFORD — Hergy Mayala got off to rough start Friday night as UConn football took on East Carolina in the Huskies’ second-to-last home game.
The freshman wide receiver received two targets early in the game and dropped both. However, Mayala made the most of his third target of the night with one of the most impressive catches of any UConn receiver this season.
Mayala hauled in a 29-yard pass from quarterback Bryant Shirreffs while taking a huge helmet-to-helmet hit from East Carolina’s Travon Simmons. Despite the hit, Mayala held on to keep the Huskies drive alive. Simmons would be ejected for targeting after a review of his hit on Mayala.
“It was a big play, he took a hard shot, and to come down with it shows a level of physical toughness and mental toughness,” UConn head coach Bob Diaco said.
The Montreal, Quebec native’s catch would prove crucial, as it led to seven of 24 straight points for the Huskies (4-5, 2-3 the American) as they rolled to a 31-13 win over the Pirates (4-5, 2-3 the American) at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
Mayala sat out the remainder of the first half, but returned in the second half and finished the night with one catch for 29 yards.
“After examination he got right back in there and played hard, blocked well,” Diaco said. “He’s a tough guy, he’s a talented player.”
After two short rushes and an illegal procedure penalty on Josh Marriner at the ECU 11-yard line, Shirreffs attempted a pass to Noel Thomas on third-and-9 in the end zone. While the play was broken up, ECU’s Josh Hawkins was called for pass interference, giving the Huskies a first down.
UConn would capitalize two plays later on a rushing touchdown from Newsome to give the Huskies a 10-6 lead. The Huskies’ 12-play, 94-yard drive was the team’s longest scoring drive this season.
The Pirates struck first after DaShawn Benton intercepted a pass from Shirreffs intended for tight end Tommy Myers and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown. UConn’s Luke Carrezola blocked Davis Plowman’s extra-point attempt to make it 6-0 ECU.
“Stuff happens, we get down early 6-0 but no one hung their heads, we came back strong and that’s all that matters, we kept our heads high,” tight end Alec Bloom said.
Bobby Puyol helped the Huskies answer on the very next drive, nailing a 45-yard field goal to make it 6-3. The field goal was Puyol’s longest of the season, and ties a career long he set last season against Memphis.
After Newsome’s touchdown gave UConn a 10-6 lead, Jamar Summers ended the Pirates’ chances of heading into the half with the lead when he intercepted a pass from ECU’s James Summers deep in UConn territory with 31 seconds left in the half.
The Huskies continued to pull away in the third quarter, opening up scoring in the second half with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Shirreffs to Bloom for his first touchdown of the season.
“I looked up and the safety was over so I figured it was a good shot and Bryant put a ball there so I made a play for the team,” Bloom said.
After a three-and-out from ECU, Newsome scored his second touchdown of the night on a 90-yard run to give UConn a 24-6 lead.
Newsome would finish the night with 244 all-purpose yards, including 179 rushing yards and two touchdowns. It was the third time in the last four games Newsome racked up over 200 all-purpose yards, and his 179 rushing yards were the most by a UConn player since Jordan Todman ran for 192 yards in 2010.
Blake Kemp replaced Summers after Newsome’s touchdown run and was intercepted on his second pass of the night by Marquise Vann. Kemp would finish the night 7-11 for 50 yards with three interceptions, and led the Pirates on a four-play, 49-yard drive that culminated with Kemp’s 2-yard touchdown run with 9:25 left to play to make it 24-13.
Shirreffs extended the Huskies’ lead to 18 with 4:29 left to play on a 3-yard touchdown run. The redshirt sophomore finished the night 12-21 for 184 yards with one passing touchdown and one rushing with one interception.
Summers sealed the 31-13 victory for the Huskies with an interception of Kemp in the end zone with 2:30 left in the game for his second interception of the night and fifth of the season. The win keeps the Huskies’ bowl hopes alive as they head into the final quarter of their season.
“It’s so important, it’s so critical,” Diaco said about the win. “It’s representative of the investment they’re making, and the energy and the care and the toughness they’re putting out, and to win and have it validate that is so incredibly important.”