Football: Huskies’ comeback effort falls short in 28-24 loss to Navy

Arkeel Newsmen runs the ball during UConn's win against Maine, Sep. 1st, 2016. (Jackson Haigis/The Daily Campus)

The UConn football team lost a heartbreaking game Saturday afternoon in their American Athletic Conference road opener against Navy. The Huskies (1-1, 0-1 The American) fell 28-24 after a baffling clock management gaffe killed a late drive on the Navy 1-yard line.

After Navy grabbed a 28-24 lead with 3:08 remaining in the game, quarterback Bryant Shirreffs led a remarkable drive down the field in an attempt to win the game. Shirreffs made accurate throws on short routes and evaded the pressure with his legs, as he took the Huskies all the way down to the Navy 1-yard line with 17 seconds left. There, head coach Bob Diaco used his final timeout to talk things over and debate which play to run on second down.

The Huskies came out of the huddle and ran a run play up the middle with Ron Johnson, who was stuffed by the Navy defense. With the clock ticking and time running out, the UConn players looked around, seemingly unaware that Diaco had no more timeouts to call. The clock hit zero and Navy won the game.

The shocking ending put a damper on what was an impressive comeback by the Huskies in Annapolis, as they battled back from an early 21-0 deficit to score 24 unanswered points take a three-point lead with 9:08 remaining.

(Graphics/Daniel MadiganGraphics/Daniel Madigan)

Navy opened the game with their triple-option offense running at maximum efficiency under backup quarterback Will Worth. The Midshipmen scored easily on their first two drives, even using two big pass plays to move down the field. They threw the ball only four times during last week’s 52-16 win over Fordham.

Navy extended the lead to 21-0 with 5:36 remaining in the second quarter on a short fumble return as Shirreffs was stripped of the ball. In total, the Huskies fumbled five times and recovered three of them.

Graphics/Daniel Madigan

The Huskies responded before the half with a quick drive down the field, capped off by a 34-yard reception by wide receiver Noel Thomas to make the score 21-7 going into halftime. Thomas finished the day with 11 catches for 116 yards and a score.

UConn came out of the halftime with a much stronger and more intelligent defensive effort, as they were able to stonewall the Navy option. Linebacker Matt Walsh and safety Obi Melifonwu were particularly important to the unit, as they combined for 20 solo tackles.

The Huskies stormed back into the game with their third quarter effort. First, Ron Johnson delivered a bruising 1-yard touchdown run to trim the Navy lead to one touchdown, followed by cornerback Jamar Summers returning a fumble 86 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.

Shirreffs led another impressive drive after that, driving the offense 70 yards down field on nine plays followed by a 38-yard field goal from Bobby Puyol to take a 24-21 lead.

The Midshipmen bounced back shortly after that, stopping the Huskies deep inside their own territory and returning the ensuing punt into the UConn red zone. A few plays later, Worth punched in another 1-yard touchdown to give Navy a 28-24 lead that they would not relinquish.

The poor clock management to close the game Saturday will certainly be a sore spot for UConn as they move forward, but they have plenty of positives to take from this game. The Huskies will be back in action next Saturday, Sep. 17, when they take on ACC opponent Virginia at Rentschler Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.


Tyler Keating is an associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu.