Huskies pull off upset of Houston, 20-17. Going Bowling.
EAST HARTFORD: It looked like a potential pick-six.
The mistake that derails a team that has a chance to do something special.
When the ball left junior back-up quarterback Tim Boyle’s hand and floated toward a guy who has become a good friend, Garrett Anderson, it had all the ear marks of a heartbreaking, game-changing play.
But this time, in a year that has seen many of those plays go against the University of Connecticut football team, the football higher powers decided this one would not be a back breaker.
This one would find Anderson, the third-string quarterback who was asked recently to start playing different positions aside from his bread and butter. In turn, he used that QB am to find Noel Thomas on a 45-yard scoring pass that would be the winning points in a 20-17 upset victory over the Houston Cougars before 26,879 at The Rent.
The win makes a UConn (6-5) team that won just two games a year ago eligible for something they have not been for some time, a Bowl game.
Houston was knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten (10-1) by a defense that forced four turnovers and held a team that averaged 43.5 points coming in to just three over the first three quarters.
The Cougars had been ranked as high as 13th in national polls but ran into a team that had shown a penchant to come up big on the defensive side at times this season.
It was Senior Day for 13 upperclassmen and head coach Bob Diaco had asked the group to step up over the past two years under trying circumstances.
“They’ve been through so much adversity,” Diaco said, “they’ve been through so many struggles. They’ve been the heartbeat and the backbone of this team. We challenged them to be that and while it’s not a big group of guys, it’s a group of tough guys. They persevere and they are everything that is great about the University.”
UConn would take the opening kickoff and plow 72 yards in six plays to go up 7-0 on one of the best run defenses in the American Athletic Conference and the nation. Arkeel Newsome (32-125) would account for 68 of those yards on the drive.
The Huskies defense would start a trend of getting off the field in a hurry in the first half, forcing a quick three-and-out that led to a critical time in the game for the home team just three plays later.
On a third-and-15 from their own 22, starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs took off on a run, slid, but was drilled by linebacker Elandon Roberts late.
Shirreffs would have to leave that game, as did Roberts who was ejected for targeting, leaving the rest of the effort to Boyle, who has seen limited action this season.
“Next man in,” Diaco said. "That’s the thought process. These guys prepare the way that we prepare as a team. Everybody gets a lot of work. We believe that if you work hard and if you do the work to prepare that you should play.”
UConn would rely on their defense heavy and they were more than up to the task of making things happen, allowing only a 29-yard field goal to start the second quarter.
A fumble recovery by Cameron Stapleton was converted into a 25-yard Bobby Puyol field goal late in the first half and the home team held a 10-3 lead going into the locker room.
Andrew Adams jumped a route for an interception late in the third quarter, leading to another Puyol field goal, this one from 40 yards for a 13-3 lead as the fourth quarter started.
Houston didn’t get to 10-0 without being able to pump out some offense and three plays into the fourth quarter, closed the gap to 13-10 with a 38-yard touchdown pass from Klye Postma to Chance Allen, who made a terrific catch at the goal line.
There was still a lot of time left and with the Cougars starting to fire on offense, it was important for the UConn offense to answer, and answer they did.
On the third play of the drive on a critical third and three, Boyle found Anderson out in the left flat for a 12-yard gain. It was the junior’s first catch of his career and it produced the much needed first down, but his best was yet to come.
Four plays later on a second and 11, Boyle dropped back and threw a quick out to Anderson that had an “oh no” look to it when it left his hand.
“I thought it might go the other way when I threw it,” Boyle said.
The ball was tipped, but did find Anderson and made the catch. He then took a step, stopped, and lofted a 45-yard strike to a streaking Thomas who had gotten a step on his defenders for the play of the night, perhaps the year.
That’s not how the Huskies luck has run for some time, but on Saturday evening, it worked.
Up 20-10, the Huskies nary had a moment to catch their collective breath before Brandon Wilson took the ensuing kickoff back 94 yards for a score.
20-17. Still more than nine minutes to play.
The defense would make two more stands on the night, forcing the Cougars to turn the ball over on downs when a fourth down call of a completed catch was overturned upon review. With 55 seconds left, Jamar Summers picked off a Garrett Davis pass for the game-clinching play.
A surreal scene played out as the time ran down, as the fans were able to rush the field. Their Huskies were Bowl eligible by securing their sixth win against just five losses.
The moment was not lost on the head coach.
“At the end of the game,” Diaco said, “to be amongst the student body and fans on the field is quintessential college football and it is Connecticut football at its finest.”
In the end, two players, Boyle and Anderson, who have competed for the same job all season, showed why things have turned around in 2015.
How does he get along with Boyle?
“It’s a great relationship,” Anderson said. “To see Tim go out there and do well was awesome. We’re brothers and we’ve been working hard together since fall camp. We room together and so it’s been so great to see him do well.”
Just then, Boyle left the interview room but not before calling out, “Garret Anderson baby, wow.”
Winning breeds that kind of reaction.
The Huskies are going bowling.