It wasn’t perfect. It was far from it. Offensively, UConn couldn’t get anything going early on. Even with their struggles though, the Huskies persevered Saturday, taking home their first double digit victory against an FCS opponent since they played Fordham in 2011.
“It means everything,” wide receiver Jacob Flynn said. “The first win of the revolution. We just have to build off it.”
The contest started out sloppy from both sides, as neither squad could seem to find a rhythm early. Two Nathan Carter plays for 22 total yards gave the Huskies a quick first down, but they couldn’t piece anything more together, only managing three more yards before having to punt. Central Connecticut State University responded with a four play punting drive of their own, giving the ball right back to UConn. A killer return from Dajon Harrison put the Huskies on the Blue Devils’ 27 yard line.
Three downs later on the Central 16, freshman quarterback Zion Turner was sacked as he released the ball, fumbling and giving it right back.
“That play is definitely a critical error on my part,” Turner noted. “[I need to] stop making mistakes… Make all the easy passes.”
Fortunately for the true freshman out of Florida, the error didn’t cost them too much, as the Blue Devils kicked the ball right back. The schools traded punts and things started to look up for the home squad (even though CCSU’s campus is actually closer to Rentschler Field than UConn), as they put together a drive 15 yards into Central’s territory. Kicker Noe Ruelas lined up for a long, 53 yard field goal, but due to its low trajectory, it was blocked, keeping the score even.
An egregious pass interference play by Tre Wortham put Central Connecticut at the UConn 30 yard line and they advanced all the way to the 18. The Huskies were able to minimize the damage though, only allowing a field goal to take a 3-0 deficit.
This seemed to wake the Huskies up, as they put together a beautiful 11 play drive to take a 7-3 lead. The first 10 plays were on the ground with Brian Brewton, Turner and Devontae Houstan, but the score came by way of air on a tough pass to tight end Brandon Niemenski. Central stormed back all the Husky 31 before UConn blocked their field goal attempt, taking over possession with two minutes to go in the first half.
Turner completed a pair of passes to get it going, entering Blue Devil territory. A few plays drained the clock before the freshman made it into the redzone on a scramble. With nine seconds left, Turner took one last shot into the end zone, but was picked off, ending the half up just 7-3.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Mora said of the first two frames. “Up 7-3 at the half, there could have been a tendency to panic. We had a pretty darn good second half”
And pretty darn good it was.
Central Connecticut started off with the ball and drove right down the field. Running back Malik Thomas tore up the Huskies for 40 yards over just three plays, but going away from Thomas gave the UConn defense some much needed air. Although they made it all the way to the Husky two, a Dal’mont Gourdine sack pushed the Devils back to the 11. That sack ultimately forced an attempted field goal that hit off the upright, keeping the score at 7-3.
This gave the Huskies and Carter enough steam to put together a long, methodic drive. Carter accounted for 44 of 96 yards, ultimately punching the ball in the end zone with a 17 yard rush that gave UConn an 11 point cushion.
UConn forced a three-and-out, only for Harrison to fumble the ball on the return. The Husky defense stayed strong and motivated, forcing a turnover on downs at roughly the same spot as Harrison fumbled.
Connecticut made the next drive count, highlighted by a 42 yard screen pass by wide receiver Aaron Turner, gaining his way to the Central 25. Carter gained 15 yards before Zion Turner dished it to Flynn in the end zone for the score. “It was a perfect pass,” Flynn said.
A punt gave it right back to UConn at their own 12 yard line. A long, sustained drive would end it, which is exactly what they executed. Brewton rushed for 29, Carter for 26 and Houston compiled 37 yards, before freshman Victor Rosa, last year’s Connecticut Gatorade POTY, bruised his way in for six points.
“His work ethic, his attitude, his personality,” Mora said.” … I would assume that we would see more of Victor Rosa.”
The score effectively gave UConn the win, as they walked away with a 28-3 victory, holding Central scoreless in the final 41 minutes of the game.
“It did [feel like a step forward]” Mora noted. “They’re starting to believe in themselves, each other, the process. They’re really feeling it. They’re understanding what it takes to be a winner. These kids are desperate to win.”
“It’s a change of mindset,” Carter observed. “I give props to Coach Mora on that. We’re not the same team mentally as we were last year.”
WEEKLY SPOTLIGHT: NATE CARTER
Carter deserves all the praise he is receiving after putting together another masterpiece. This time, he racked up 123 yards and a touchdown, continuing his impressive start to the year. So far, he’s rushed for 313 yards, which is already over halfway to his 2021 total. Carter looks like a changed man and has done a great job improving his ability to beat defense’s secondaries. This extends two or three yard runs into six plus ones, which makes a massive difference over the course of the game. If the Huskies want to get more wins, Carter will need to be at the forefront of the effort as he was Saturday.
The Huskies return home this Saturday against longtime rival Syracuse under the lights. “I don’t want to know why everyone would not want to be at The Rent Saturday night,” says Mora.