UConn fans were given a card bearing Jasper Howard's uniform number 6 and were asked to display the cards in a moving tribute to the young man who was killed on campus on Oct. 18. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com
EAST HARTFORD – The fourth quarter has not been kind to the Huskies this season. Saturday’s 28-24 loss has to be the most devastating of all four final-frame failures this fall, coming as it did with only a few ticks left on the clock.
And immediately after a go-ahead touchdown by UConn.
And against arch-rival Rutgers.
And on such a long, long pass-and-run.
And, perhaps cruelest of all, on a day dedicated to the memory of defensive back Jasper Howard.
An almost certain victory set up – when Jordan Todman scampered around left end to the corner of the end zone for a two-yard score, with only 38 seconds to play – was taken away swiftly and suddenly.
Todman’s fourth-down run had given UConn a 24-21 lead.
“We knew it was fourth down and we had come too far to quit now,” the sophomore tailback said after the game.”
UConn tailback Jordan Todman is about to beat Rutgers safety Patrick Kivlehan to the corner of the end zone to score what at the time seemed to be a game-winning TD with only 38 seconds to play. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com
But Rutgers struck back quickly. Tom Savage hit Tim Brown with a short pass from the Rutgers 19. And Brown eluded the entire UConn secondary, en route to an 81-yard scoring jaunt that instantaneously stunned Rentschler Field into silence.
Head Coach Randy Edsall said Saturday’s loss ranked “in the top two or three” among the tough losses he’d endured throughout his football career, “because of all the things we’ve gone through the past few weeks.”
The team and the UConn community have mourned the loss of the personable 20-year-old athlete from Miami, Jasper Howard, who had died on Oct. 18 from a stab wound inflicted during a fight on the UConn campus two weeks earlier.
UConn drops to 4-4
Rutgers is now 6-2, with its first Big East win. UConn drops to 4-4 on the year (1-3 in the league), the four losses coming by a total of 13 points. And all following the same disappointing script: blown leads in the fourth quarter, albeit to quality, ranked teams such as Pitt, West Virginia and North Carolina.
For the second straight week, UConn allowed a game-opening kickoff return for a touchdown. Saturday, it was Devin McCourty (21) going 98 yards to give Rutgers a quick 7-0 lead. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com
“In all of our four losses, we just couldn’t finish the game out today,” Edsall said. “It’s tough to take but it is what it is. We had the opportunity and we didn’t make the play when we needed to.”
Edsall said the defense played well throughout the second half, and indeed they had, keeping the Scarlet Knights scoreless until that ill-fated game-winner, a play that went all the way, according to Edsall, because of poor tackling angles taken by some of the defensive backs.
“They make a good throw and a good catch, but then we had a young man that took a bad angle to the ball. We didn’t make the tackle,” Edsall said. “That was a coverage we were playing pretty much all day long [where] we put our best guy on their best guy, a coverage we were using and having success with.”
“Unfortunately we didn’t have success that time,” he said.
Cody Endres injured
The Scarlet Knights added injury to insult in this rivalry game, knocking out quarterback Cody Endres in the first quarter for the rest of the game – and possibly for the remainder of the season, depending on the results of shoulder surgery scheduled for Sunday.
Andre Dixon is about to be brought down by a pair of Rutgers tacklers. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com
Zack Frazer replaced Endres in the middle of the first quarter. He ended up throwing for 333 yards (21-for-46) – with three interceptions and a 32-yard touchdown – to Marcus Easley (his fourth straight game with a TD) and pulled the Huskies to within 21-17 early in the fourth period.
As they had done at West Virginia the week before, the Huskies dug a hole for themselves early in the game, when they allowed the opening kickoff to be returned for a touchdown, this time by Devin McCourtey, who eluded tacklers for 98 yards.
UConn closed the gap on their first possession with a 37-yard field goal by Dave Teggart.
The score remained at 7-3 until early in the second quarter, when Savage hit on the first of two scoring strikes before the half. He hooked up with Brown for 37 yards and later hit Mark Harrison with a 20-yard TD pass with 2:16 left before intermission.
Despite having 6′s in just about every part of the stadium – as fans, players, cheerleaders and musicians all wore some form of Jasper’s uniform number – UConn had trouble putting up sixes where they counted the most… on the scoreboard.
Rutgers defensive back Joe Lefeged intercepts this Zack Frazer pass intended for Marcus Easley (29) (not in photo) early in the second quarter. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com
For three quarters, all the Huskies could muster was Robbie Frey’s coast-to-coast kickoff return that officially measured 100 yards, but actually was much longer. The elusive kick returner started his run up the right sideline before taking a diagonal route to the left pylon of the end zone.
As the fourth quarter opened with Rutgers holding a 21-10 lead, some no doubt wrote off the Huskies as emotionally drained from a season of suddenly sad endings, capped by a much, much sadder ending to the life of a young man suddenly taken away much, much too soon.
But the offense arose from its doldrums in the fourth quarter, to score twice in the final frame in a performance completely opposite of previous games, when the team built an early lead and saw it evaporate in the final period.
These late-game heroics, seemingly a reverse-the-curse, soon turned perverse when Rutgers’ prayers in the waning moments of the game were answered without anyone from New Jersey having thrown a Hail Mary.
Players are “stunned”
Asked the mood in the locker room after suffering such a crushing loss, Edsall said his players were “stunned.”
“They’re stunned, that’s what it is. There are a lot of guys that are very, very upset. And they should be. We all should…We’ve just got to all get focused on working hard and eliminating mistakes,” Edsall said.
“We’ll just keep fighting. That’s all I know to do. We’ll just go back to work and get everybody to understand how every play is important. We made so many mistakes for the first three quarters and then to come back and put yourself in a position to win the game like we did (and then) that play there at the end…. To have that happen is just hard to describe.”
Posted Nov. 1, 2009
Greg Lloyd (95) and Robert Vaughn (33) sandwich a Rutgers ball carrier. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com
Return specialist Robbie Frye rambled 100 yards with a second-quarter kickoff to score UConn's only touchdown in the first three quarters. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com
Youngsters got to display their Halloween costumes during halftime when they walked the perimeter of the field, led by Husky mascot Jonathan, who doesn't need a special day to wear a costume. Left, Todd Turton of Suffield with 13-month-old Noah, on the right, East Haddam resident Michael Davidson and 15-month-old Grant. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com
Husky fans come in all shapes and sizes. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com
As did many at the game, these sophomores wore jerseys in memory of Jasper Howard. From left: Shannon Flaherty, Amanda Alexander, Jordan Reed and Katie Faust. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com
All band members wore jerseys prominently displaying the number 6 in honor of “Jazz” Howard’s jersey number. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com
Displaying their unique tribute to Jasper Howard are UConn freshmen Mike Schwarzenbach, Mason Perrone and Dave Marceau. Photo © 2009 by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com