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UConn football hangs on to defeat Wagner, 24-21

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The Huskies’ opener shouldn’t have been this close, but a young Husky team allowed the visitors to get back in the game.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn’s first game of the season against Wagner started well and ended with a 24-21 win, even though some late gaffes led to the Huskies almost squandering a solid overall performance.

UConn outgained Wagner, 392-185, notched 26 first downs to Wagner’s 12, and ran 81 plays while the Seahawks got off just 44. The Huskies moved the ball relatively well, and the defense was mostly stout until a few lapses late in the game—one of Wagner’s touchdowns came on a pick-six off the hands of Mike Beaudry.

UConn jumped out to a 10-0 lead which held into the halftime break but could have had more, as the Huskies had a turnover on downs late in the first half to end a 61-yard drive. In the first half, UConn outgained Wagner 202 yards to 53, nearly doubling up their time of possession.

The defense forced six punts in the first half, more than they had in any single game last year, and five three-and-outs.

But things got weird in the second half.

Kevin Mensah ended a 50+ yard drive with a fumble in Wagner territory that could have added to the lead, a second consecutive long drive with no points to show for it. Then the pick-six, which occurred on 4th and 3, also in Wagner territory, put the Seahawks on the board, down 10-7.

Aside from the interception, Beaudry led the offense with confidence and was boosted by excellent performances from the running backs. Beaudry was efficient, but he was locked into his receiver on the previously-mentioned pick. Wagner defensive back Myron Morris undercut a pass intended for Art Thompkins and took it to the house. After one game, true freshman Matt Drayton appears to be his favorite target, leading the team with five receptions and 51 receiving yards.

Mensah, a junior, looked every bit of a star coming into his own — patient in the backfield, waiting for his blocks to set up for him, then hitting the hole with force or bouncing it to the outside. He carried the ball 36 times for 144 yards while newcomer to the backfield Art Thompkins ran for 91 on 17 carries while also catching two passes for 14 yards. Both had a rushing touchdown.

We knew what to expect from Mensah. After Thompkins’ first performance in a Husky uniform, it’s clear he also brings an impressive element to the offense— a shifty runner who is also as a pass-catcher. When Art Thompkins got the ball in space, he looked on an entirely different level than the Wagner defensive backs.

Wagner scored its second touchdown of the game on a brisk 1:29, 82-yard drive that ended with a 55-yard touchdown run, giving UConn fans heavy flashbacks to 2018.

The Huskies responded with an efficient touchdown drive to build the lead back up to two scores, 24-14, going into the fourth quarter. After trading possessions, Wagner had a long drive aided by two big penalties as it scored another touchdown to make it 24-21 with 3:36 left.

Mensah ran the ball five times, benefiting from a facemask penalty on a third down play that helped the Huskies ice the game and move to 1-0 on the season.

Looking at the score, it seems like par for the course given the Huskies’ history against FCS teams. Given that it was the first game of the season, the team had new coordinators, a new QB, and a lot of other new players across the “participation chart,” there was enough promise to build on in hopes that this team improves over the course of the season.

The pick-six and penalties are correctable, and can make the difference between a loss that’s too close for comfort and one that has us sleeping more comfortably tonight. The Huskies will be taking on Illinois at The Rent next week at 3:30 p.m. on CBS Sports.