EAST HARTFORD — Saturday’s game against UCF was business as usual for star UConn wide receiver Noel Thomas.
The senior posted a career-high 165 yards in the Huskies’ 24-16 loss to rival UCF (4-3, 2-1 the American) for his fourth-straight game with at least 100 receiving yards. Thomas’ nine receptions gave him 76 on the year, passing former teammate and mentor Geremy Davis for the most receptions in a season since UConn (3-5, 1-4 the American) joined the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2003.
“I had a great teacher before with Geremy, watching him play,” Thomas said. “I always strive to be great and do the best I can. If I’m the primary receiver on the team, I have to be nothing short of great.”
Thomas’ performance against the Knights marked his sixth game this season with at least 100 receiving yards, giving him more 100-plus yard games this season (six) than UConn had in its last two seasons (four), posting 76 receptions and 923 receiving yards so far during his breakout senior campaign. No other UConn player has over 18 receptions this season.
With Thomas averaging 9.5 receptions per game, Thomas has a good chance to shatter Mark Didio’s single-season UConn record of 88 receptions that has stood for 25 years. With four games remaining, Thomas sits at 76 catches, 12 short of Didio’s record and currently the third-most in a season all-time. Should Thomas break the record, it would be a fitting way to validate just how important he has been to the offense this season.
“Noel is a talented player, he’s one of the finest wide receivers in America. He comes to work and he busts his butt and he works his crafts,” Diaco said of Thomas. “[He’s] fast, quick, strong, can catch, excellent hand-eye coordination, clean route-running, blocks…He’s approached this year like a senior leader like he wanted to.”
The Conflict is Real
With their victory over the Huskies, the Knights are now 2-2 all-time against UConn in a game that has become one of the more interesting matchups in college sports. Granted, most of the interest has been on UConn’s side, thanks to Diaco’s idea to name the game “The Civil Conflict” and create a trophy to commemorate the matchup during the summer of 2015.
Despite the controversy and debate that the trophy has caused, the series has provided its fair share of compelling football in its four-year existence, bookended with wins by the Knights (including a 62-17 blowout in the initial matchup) and UConn victories sandwiched in between. Overall, the series has been relatively even, with UCF outscoring the Huskies 128-110 in total points.
While the trophy has been ridiculed by many and desired by few outside of Storrs, UConn players view the Conflict as a consistently hard-fought matchup between two quality programs.
“It’s up to them to take it seriously, but on our side, it’s a rivalry. It’s the Conflict,” Thomas said.