EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — UConn handed Houston its first loss of the season while becoming bowl eligible for the first time in five years.
Pretty good day for Noel Thomas and company.
Thomas caught two touchdown passes, including a 45-yarder on a trick play in the fourth quarter, and the Huskies beat the Cougars 20-17 on Saturday.
Houston (10-1, 6-1, No. 19 CFP) was held to just 318 yards in total offense. The Cougars came into the game averaging 43.5 points and 521 yards.
Kyle Postma, playing in place of injured Heisman hopeful Greg Ward Jr., threw for 190 yards and a touchdown.
Ward, who rolled his left ankle a week ago against Memphis, came in after Postma was injured during Houston’s final drive, but was intercepted by Jamar Summers with 55 seconds left.
Connecticut (6-5, 4-3 American Athletic Conference) then ran out the clock, and its fans stormed the field.
“That’s a moment I’ll probably never forget in my life,” senior safety Andrew Adams said.
Houston hosts Navy next Saturday for the conference’s Western Division title and a spot in the Dec. 5 AAC championship game.
“It’s a real hard pill to swallow,” Houston linebacker Steven Taylor said. “But we have other things to focus on.”
Thomas, who caught seven passes for 108 yards, put UConn up 7-0 with a 4-yard touchdown catch on the Huskies’ opening drive.
His second TD came with just under 10 minutes left. Quarterback-turned-receiver Garrett Anderson got a backward throw from Tim Boyle and found Thomas behind the Houston defense.
The ball almost didn’t make it to Anderson after being tipped by Houston’s Matthew Adams.
“I thought it was going to be going the other way,” Boyle said. “Thank God it didn’t. It fell right in Garrett’s hand and Garrett did the rest from there.”
The Cougars responded immediately, with Brandon Wilson returning the ensuing kickoff 94 yards to make it 20-17.
But Postma, who engineered Houston’s come-from-behind win over Memphis last week, could not repeat the feat against UConn. The Cougars’ next drive ended when his fourth-down pass to a diving Demarcus Ayers was ruled out of bounds on a replay.
Houston got the ball back with less than 2 minutes left. Ward was forced into the game when Postma went down after completing a third-down pass. Ward found Ayers for 18 yards, but Summers made a nice play to intercept his next pass.
Postma played all but four snaps, completing 16 of 27 passes, including a 38-yard touchdown to Chance Allen.
“(Ward) was only at about 70 percent, so we felt that Kyle gave us the best chance to win,” Houston coach Tom Herman said.
Houston’s Kenneth Farrow was held to 46 yards rushing. He left with a leg injury on the last play of the third quarter.
Arkeel Newsome ran for 114 yards on 32 carries for the Huskies, who became bowl eligible for the first time since the 2010 season.
Newsome carried the ball 42 yards straight up the middle on the first play of the game and rushed for 68 yards during the opening drive. Bryant Shirreffs then rolled out and passed to Thomas for the TD with 11:40 left in the first quarter.
It was Shirreffs’ only pass of the game. He was injured on the Huskies’ next drive when a diving Elandon Roberts hit the quarterback as he was sliding after a run. Roberts, the conference’s leading tackler, was hit with a targeting penalty and ejected.
Boyle completed 12 of 22 passes for 110 yards.
Houston got on the board on Ty Cummings’ 29-yard field goal after a 72-yard drive stalled in the second quarter.
The Huskies carried a 10-3 lead into halftime after defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi stripped Postma to set up a 25-yard field goal for Bobby Puyol.
It was UConn’s third win against a ranked opponent in 26 attempts. The Huskies lost their only other game against a ranked team this year, falling at then-No.22 Missouri, 9-3.
The Huskies, who were just 2-10 a year ago, assured themselves of at least a .500 season for the first time since earning a Fiesta Bowl berth in 2010.
“To have this kind of win happen for those seniors and their families, I know that is going to be a catalyst for so much success in the future,” UConn coach Bob Diaco said.