For the first time in seven seasons, following three-straight double-digit loss campaigns, UConn football reached bowl eligibility on Saturday afternoon with a 36-33 victory over Liberty on Senior Day.
After UConn stuffed Liberty on 4th down to get the ball back down five, Zion Turner delivered a 30-yard strike to Kevens Clercius for the go-ahead touchdown. The UConn defense buckled down on three-straight Liberty drives to close out the game and send the Huskies bowling.
UConn started the game with an efficient opening drive, highlighted by a 15-yard catch and run from Aaron Turner that set up a 16-yard, bowling ball touchdown run from Victor Rosa. Liberty moved the ball down the field with similar ease in response, but the Huskies’ defense tightened up and the Flames had to settle for a field goal.
That’s when things started to get weird. Liberty got the ball back after a UConn punt and was again driving when starting quarterback Johnathan Bennett failed to see a rampaging Eric Watts bearing down on him, giving up a sack-fumble recovered by Jackson Mitchell returned for a touchdown, and the Huskies were up 14-3 early.
Liberty responded by taking advantage of a UConn fumble on a gadget play and driving from midfield to make it 14-10, but the Huskies’ offense kept on rolling, breaking out of difficult starting field position on its own six-yard line with a 60-yard run by fullback Robert Burns, kickstarting a 94-yard drive that ended in Burns punching it in from the 1-yard line.
With just under four minutes to go in the second quarter and leading 21-10, the Huskies’ offense made a costly mistake to throw the Flames a lifeline heading into the half with a Zion Turner interception. That set Liberty up in UConn territory, where they punched in a TD to cut the lead to 21-17.
The second half was all Liberty, scoring 10 unanswered points in the third quarter to go up 27-21, on two drives consisting of short passes and zone runs on a gassed UConn defense. The Huskies responded with an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on which Liberty gave them a helping hand again, this time via two costly personal fouls to twice extend the drive on third downs.
UConn took the 28-27 lead, but Liberty had figured something out against a tiring Huskies’ defensive unit and struck back by attacking the edge of the field with Demario Douglas, who took a jet sweep to the house and put the Flames up again, 33-28.
Liberty stopped UConn on the ensuing possession, but got a little greedy on fourth and short, failing to convert thanks to perfect pursuit from Jackson Mitchell, handing the ball back to the Huskies with a chance to take the lead. After converting a fourth down of their own, they took the lead for good on the Clercius touchdown and the defense held on to send the Huskies to bowl eligibility.
UConn is 6-5 heading into the final game of the season, at Army on Saturday, November 19th. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network at 12 p.m.