Cheerleaders spent much of the week helping students who wanted to send a card of condolence to Howard Jasper's family: (L-R) Vu Tran, Kristen Schmalbach, Jacky Brown, Jessica Wahl and Jenna Frechette. Standing are the Sullivan twins, Danielle on the left and Rachel on the right. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com
When senior wide receiver Marcus Easley improbably streaked 88 yards to give UConn a 24-21 lead with four minutes to play Saturday [Oct. 24], it was like Jasper Howard was smiling down on his teammates.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, the only divine intervention in this game came from West Virginia scatback Noel Devine who – moments after Easley’s heroic play -turned the corner untouched at midfield and tiptoed his way down the sideline en route to a 56-yard touchdown that surely broke the hearts of so many UConn fans already brokenhearted from the untimely death of the junior cornerback from Miami a week earlier.
“It’s a hurt locker room, but we’ll move forward,” coach Randy Edsall said in a post-game interview on national television.
The Huskies had tried to muster a last-minute rally but that was snuffed out when Cody Endres was picked off for the third time in the game on a fourth-and-12 from the West Virginia 35 and the 23rd ranked Mountaineers held on for a hard fought 28-24 victory.
Watching from the Student Union
Reflecting on Easley’s electrifying scoring run – his third TD in as many games – UConn student Andrew Taylor said it was as though “Jasper was helping out, giving him good blocking.”
The Oct. 24 football game was televised in the Student Union theater, a pair of jerseys bracketing the screen. Throughout the broadcast, ESPN referred to various tributes being paid to Jasper “Jazz” Howard, including this display of his jersey and helmet on the sidelines. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com
Taylor, a sophomore from Simsbury, watched the game with more than 100 other undergrads in the Student Union theater.
“They did the best they could under the circumstances,” said sophomore Nicole Murphy as she walked out of the theater with classmate Samantha Eisenberg, who admitted she was “a little sad” about the outcome.
Buoyed with the emotion of wanting to win one for their slain teammate, the Huskies almost pulled off a minor miracle in Morgantown but it wasn’t to be, thanks to Devine’s tight-roping touchdown jaunt that allowed West Virginia to remain the only Big East team UConn has yet to beat on the gridiron.
“I just feel empty, I feel very empty,” Edsall said immediately after the game. “The kids played their hearts out, they did what we asked them to do. I know Jazz was proud of their effort today,” he said.
Howard was the focus of attention during a heartwarming pre-game ceremony tastefully choreographed by West Virginia, a program that UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway described as “a tremendous show of support” by the home team.
Watching the game in the Student Union theater, freshman Greg Darling and friends cheer after a UConn score. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com
But that sense of largesse came to an abrupt and sudden halt only a few seconds into the game when Tavon Austin returned the opening kickoff 98 yards to give the Mountaineers a quick 7-0 lead and provide a wake up call to the Connecticut sideline that they had, indeed, come south to play a football game.
Edsall praised his players for not giving up after the quick touchdown had burst Connecticut’s emotional bubble created by the touching tributes for their talented teammate.
“That just shows the type of guys we have, their tremendous character,” Edsall said. “They know the game isn’t won in the first 10 seconds, that it’s a 60-minute ball game.”
The UConn men's and women's swim teams, hosting the Husky Invitational on Saturday Oct. 24, remembered Jasper Howard with a 6 on their backs – his number. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com
“It was a little tough at first, but we knew we had to focus on the game,” said Endres, who had a career day, hitting on 25 of his 41 passes for a total of 378 yards.
In addition to that bomb to the Stratford Streak, Endres also hooked up with Kashif Moore for a 17-yard scoring strike with 21 seconds left in the first half to give Connecticut a 17-14 lead at the intermission.
UConn had tied the game at seven on Jordan Todman’s 5-yard run and then took the lead on a 38-yard field goal by Dave Teggart in the second quarter.
Easley caught five passes for a career high 157 yards and Robbie Frey zigged and zagged his way to a career best 136 kickoff return yards.
In fact, UConn outgained West Virginia 501-387 in total yardage.
Devine led West Virginia with 178 yards on 23 carries.
Robert Vaughn snatched his fourth interception of the season to help the defense contain the Mountaineers’ potent offense as best they could, given the fact they were not only experiencing the emotional loss of Jazz but also the physical loss of one of their defensive leaders, along with the absence of standout linebacker Scott Lutrus who was once again shelved by injuries.
UConn drops to 4-3 (1-2 in the Big East); West Virginia is 6-1 (2-0 in the league). The Huskies have now lost to three ranked teams this season by a total of eight points.
Cheerleaders rally support
Despite the loss on the field, Edsall and his squad no doubt won the hearts of college football fans for their courageous performance under such difficult conditions.
“I can’t say enough about how UConn has responded here today, with all that has gone on during the week,” said one ESPN announcer.
UConn students rallied in support of the football team throughout the week after Howard was fatally stabbed on Oct. 18 following a campus dance to celebrate the team’s homecoming victory over Louisville.
A tribute to a talented and personable student-athlete from Miami, Fla. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com
The cheerleading squad, with nothing to cheer about during a week of mourning, decided to try to cheer up Howard’s family as best they could, setting up booths on campus for students to write a card of condolence to Jasper’s mom and younger sisters.
“The memorials have been really powerful; the campus really came together,” said senior Vu Tran, who was among the cheerleaders who collected more than 2,000 cards of condolence for the family. “When something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. It’s a large campus, but it’s smaller than you think.”
Posted Oct. 25, 2009