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UConn's Most Important Football Wins: #1

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It was not a pretty game, but it was a gorgeous result. Dave Teggart's 52-yard field goal helped UConn beat USF and clinch the first New Year's Day bowl game in school history.

Elsa

Box Score

The game is tied. There are mere seconds left. Dave Teggart assumes his position. The ball is snapped. UConn is one kick away from achieving the ultimate – a Big East championship and a BCS berth. But 52 yards is a long, long way to kick a football…

The 2010 season was supposed to be UConn’s year. The 2009 season ended with incredible promise. The wins over Notre Dame in South Bend and against USF in the snow. The demolition of South Carolina in the heart of SEC country. The looming opener against Big Ten power Michigan. It all seemed to be coming together at the right time.

Then D.J. Shoemate fumbled.

Down 24-10 against Michigan in the 3rd quarter, Shoemate had gotten a first down inside in the five-yard line but fumbled as he was tackled on the 4th and 1 play.

It was all downhill from there. The embarrassing loss at Temple. The brutal Friday night loss to Rutgers. The absolute nadir, the Mike Box-led fiasco at Louisville, when UConn lost 26-0 and didn’t appear competitive. They were 3-4 and zero people were thinking Fiesta Bowl.

It turned around the next week against West Virginia and the kindness of the Mountaineers to fumble at almost every opportunity. Pitt, Syracuse and Cincinnati followed as wins and suddenly UConn controlled its own destiny against a USF team that had just beaten Miami.

I vividly remember feeling that UConn/USF was the biggest game ever played while it garnered barely a passing mention on ESPN that day. Auburn and Oregon were wrapping up undefeated season to set up a titantic title game. At the same time as UConn, Nebraska and Oklahoma were playing for the last time in the last Big 12 title game.

Even the stadium in Tampa was barely half-full, as only 41,809 decided to show up.

UConn, though, played like the weight of the world was on their shoulders, particularly on the offense side of things. The stats were ugly. Zach Frazer threw for 112 yards. Jordan Todman muscled out 93 yards on 33 carries – not even averaging 3 yards per.

When you gain 232 total yards, you are not supposed to win the football game.

Per usual, the UConn defense stood up and provided the Huskies’ only touchdown when LB Lawrence Wilson returned a deflected pass 55 yards for a touchdown.

To be honest, there isn’t really much more to say about the game. It was a slugfest. You could politely call it a defensive battle. You could more accurately call it an offensive display of offense.

Regardless of aesthetics, a Dave Teggart field goal made it 16-6 with just over 13 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. With the way the UConn defense was playing – and the way the USF offense wasn’t playing – it felt like a comfortable lead.

It wasn’t.

USF scored a touchdown to make it 16-13 with about 8 minutes to go. A field goal made it 16-16 with just over a minute to play.

Suddenly, the ineptitude of the UConn offense on this night became a very, very serious problem.

A fantastic kickoff return by Robbie Frey gave UConn the ball at its own 40. An 18-yard pass to Kashif Moore got UConn into USF territory. Another 7 yard completion got UConn to the USF 35 yard line and the very fringe of field goal range. The next two plays gained nothing.

It was then up to Dave Teggart – the same man who beat USF on the last play of the 2009 game in the snow – to hit a ridiculous 52-yard field goal to give UConn its first BCS berth and simply stun a college football world that wanted anyone other than UConn to represent the conference.

Dave Teggart will never have to buy another drink in the state of Connecticut for the rest of his life. The kick went through and UConn had done the unthinkable.

It’s crazy to comprehend on almost every possible level. UConn just 15 years earlier was not even an above-average Yankee Conference I-AA team. Now, they were going to play on New Year’s Day? It was the sort of story that should have been lauded and repeated over and over as the ultimate example of perseverance. When UConn decided to go I-A, there were many critics who felt it was foolish. But when Teggart’s kick sailed through the uprights, everything was vindicated.

Or was it?

College football does not appreciate outsiders. In the NCAA Tournament, a story like UConn’s would get you on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In the BCS, a story like UConn’s contributed to blowing the entire system up.

The Big East, within months of UConn’s Fiesta Bowl, started to get scraped for parts. ESPN, fearing competition from the newly-minted NBC Sports Network, conspired to smear the conference into oblivion.

Just three seasons removed from the program’s highest heights – UConn plays in the surprisingly strong yet continually derided American Athletic Conference.

Regardless of the fallout, nothing can change what happened on that December night in South – well, not actually South – Florida. For an all-too-brief moment, UConn had climbed the mountaintop and would share the spotlight with established powers like Oklahoma, Ohio State and Oregon.

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