A Michael Tarbutt field goal attempt which would have tied the game in the waning seconds missed as the UConn Huskies (1-2) lose their first conference game of the season to East Carolina, 41-38.
It wasn’t that simple, however. It took a nice comeback effort from UConn in the second half to get to this point, but the horrendous start to the game against an opponent of ECU’s caliber is inexcusable.
On the Huskies’ first play of the game, Bryant Shirreffs had Hergy Mayala wide open down the field and missed him for what would have been a sure touchdown. One play later, Mayala was hurt and watched the rest of the game on crutches. It was not a great start.
Conversely, ECU began the game with three touchdowns on its first three drives, moving the ball virtually at will. The Pirates added two field goals on their next two drives to make it 5 for 5 scoring on drives to start and take a 27-7 lead. UConn got its first touchdown on redshirt freshman Mason Donaldson’s first career reception, a 42-yard pitch-and-catch from Bryant Shirreffs.
The Huskies scored another touchdown late in the first half, with Nate Hopkins capping off a 75-yard drive by crossing the goal line on 4th and short. The half ended 27-14, which wasn’t a terrible score given that UConn had been completely outplayed.
Unfortunately, the second half started with a 75-yard ECU touchdown pass to Davon Grayson, his third TD, on the very first play to make it 34-14. At this point, it appeared UConn would be suffering a blowout loss at the hands of what was considered the worst team in the conference. To the Huskies’ credit, they battled back.
The two teams traded back touchdown drives, making it 41-21 but from there the UConn defense found a way to make stops and the offense capitalized. Donaldson, Quayvon Skanes, and Arkeel Newsome all made big plays as Newsome finished off a 75-yard drive with a hard-earned 8-yard rush for a score. Newsome would break free for a 79-yard touchdown on a screen pass which followed a Tarbutt field goal to make it 41-38.
Newsome finished with 185 yards from scrimmage while true freshman Kevin Mensah also had a good day, carrying the ball 16 times for 107 yards. Donaldson finished as the second-leading receiver with six receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite being down 20 points early in the third quarter, the Huskies were within striking distance. UConn started its attempt at a game-winning drive down three on its own 9-yard line with 2:34 left. The Huskies drove 79 yards downfield, but a completed pass to Donaldson on 2 & 3 from the 17 failed to go out of bounds and UConn never had a chance to go for the end zone. Randy Edsall called a time-out and sent out the field goal unit to try and tie it with six seconds left.
Tarbutt’s attempt sailed wide right, allowing the Pirates to hang on for the win. Even if it was close, this is a bad loss for UConn, who will be traveling to Dallas to take on a resurgent SMU next Saturday, September 30 at 4 p.m.