Football: Huskies finish schedule on sour note at Army

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Coming into Saturday’s regular season finale at West Point, New York, the UConn football team (6-6) was riding a three-game win streak. They’ve played the best football the program has seen in nearly a decade, injecting excitement into the fanbase. Unlike most of the rest of the season though, a mix of missed opportunities and penalties Saturday allowed a winning-season to slip through their paws, in the form of a 34-17 loss to Army (4-6). 

The Huskies started the game off with the ball, opening with a nice 12-yard Devontae Houston rush, a back who has been electric all year. The next three plays couldn’t move the sticks, so they sent out George Caratan to punt the ball to the Black Knights. The ball was punted, but didn’t make more than a few inches before it was blocked and returned for a touchdown by Miles Stewart. 

UConn got the ball back after Army’s initial punch and responded well. Houston broke off a 33-yard run into Army territory on just the first play and a pair of Victor Rosa rushes got another first down. Houston, Rosa and fifth-year fullback Robert Burns got the ball all the way to the one-yard line with consecutive runs, but they never broke the end zone. The Huskies tried and had a touchdown called back, ultimately settling for a Noe Ruelas field goal. 

The Connecticut defense forced a three and out and the offense came marching back onto the field looking to take the lead. A pair of Rosa rushes took the Huskies deep into Army territory and a Zion Turner scramble advanced the ball to the five. Burns dived towards the goal line three of the four downs, failing to get in each time, resulting in a turnover on downs. 

Army once again punted the ball back and the Huskies were itching for a touchdown on their fourth offensive series. The first five plays of the drive only added 14 yards, but Turner scrambled for a 23 yard gain past midfield. On the next play, Rosa took a pitch and found a hole, bursting towards the end zone for a 43 yard house call. 

UConn was up 10-7, but it felt like it could have been 21-0 with the number of times they sniffed the goalline. Army stormed back with a methodical drive using their patented option offense known to wear opposing defenses down as the game went. After 11 plays–only one that went longer than eight yards–and 75 total yards, the Black Knights punched it past the pylon. The score made it a 13-10 game going into the half after the Huskies blocked the point after. 

UConn did well to force a three and out on Army’s first drive out of the locker room and were hoping to make up for all their missed opportunities during the previous two quarters. Facing a third and five early, the Huskies need a spark. That spark came in the form of an eight yard Justin Joly grab, moving the sticks and also providing momentum. Turner aired it out to Kevens Clercius for 33 yards on the next play and Houston added 11 on the ground to get into the red zone. 

A scary play for Connecticut came when Rosa took the handoff for a short rush, but lost the ball trying to get extra yardage. A pile formed around the pigskin, and thankfully for the Huskies it was Noel Ofori-Nyadu who had it when the dust cleared. Burns took the rock to the goalline and Turner left nothing to chance on the quarterback sneak on his first career ground touchdown. 

It finally felt like UConn might break through and take control of the game, but Army’s Braheam Murphy had other ideas. The back took the opening handoff 75 yards all the way to the end zone for the lead-taking score to get the Black Knights back up, 20-17. 

Neither team was able to convert on any of the next three drives, but on the latter, the Huskies netted -12 yards. The mix of a 29-yard punt and the 12-yard return brought the ball to a similar spot where the Connecticut drive began. With just 38 yards standing between Army and the end zone, Tyhier Tyler collected 29, also getting credit for the touchdown. 

Down two scores for the first time this game, it was make-or-break time for UConn. A punt, two interceptions thrown by Turner and a game-sealing Black Knight touchdown ultimately broke it for the Huskies, as they just couldn’t get themselves back into it. 

Rosa was Connecticut’s best performer, running for over 100 yards on just 12 carries. He added the touchdown on the 43-yard rush, doing his best to help the Huskies. 

It’s hard to feel positive about the outcome of the contest, as UConn played like the better team for the majority. For the first time since they beat Fresno State on Oct. 1, they gained more yards than their opponent, going 4-1 in that stretch. Being on the wrong side of that is less fun and the Huskies got a taste of that medicine, especially when the opponent didn’t even complete a pass. They had three separate drives where they started a play on the Army one yard line and scored a touchdown on just one such drive. If UConn wanted the win, it was right there for them, but they ultimately came up empty. 

Now, the Huskies play the waiting game, hoping to hear their name called for a bowl, along with a chance at their first winning season since 2010.

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