(WTNH)–It happened around 7:30 p.m. Saturday, on a dark, cold night below a near-full moon and in front of thousands of rejuvenated fans, just waiting for their chance to finally go crazy.
When Jamar Summers leaped up and came down with fringe-Heisman candidate Greg Ward Jr.‘s pass on Houston’s final drive, clinching UConn’s 20-17 upset win and with it, bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010, the Huskies’ long, hard march back to relevance was complete.
UConn football is back.
For this year, at least–and maybe for many years to come. Jubilant fans rushed the field after the game as a final punctuation, and a tiny pocket of Houston supporters sat stunned, with new appreciation for just how tough a place to play Rentschler Field can be.
“That’s a moment I’ll probably never forget in my life,” senior safety Andrew Adams said afterwards.
UConn fans might agree.
We could see flashes of this coming earlier this season–as the team competed hard in Provo, Utah, against a BYU team that had already taken down Nebraska and Boise State. They fought hard against Missouri, blew out Central Florida, and then buried East Carolina on Halloween eve, all things Huskies fans haven’t seen in years.
We saw flashes of it in Arkeel Newsome, whose 68-yard run on the Huskies’ opening drive set the tone on Saturday, and whose explosive, elusive running style itself shows flashes of future stardom. We saw flashes of it in the defense–which was the hallmark of Randy Edsall’s brillance, which now ranks 20th in the nation in points allowed.
UConn fans haven’t felt this way in a long time–not since Edsall was barking and clapping on the sidelines. His departure cut deep, not just because Edsall had carried the program from its FBS infancy to the Fiesta Bowl, but because it completely fell apart in his absence.
His replacement was Paul Pasqualoni, a man whose stale approach to football brought the team back decades, and nearly sank the program. Was it him, or us? Huskies fans wondered. Could we get this thing going again, any time soon, under a new coach?
Bob Diaco may be outspoken. He may be eccentric. But he’s done a fantastic job since he arrived in Storrs. He was right when he said the cupboard was a little bit more bare than he had realized before last season, when the listless Huskies limped to a 2-10 record.
But now, he’s redeemed himself. His vision has materialized, and fans are now praying the Huskies can keep him around.
There’s no doubt that fans will remember this game for a long time, but is it the biggest win in program history?
Let’s take a look at the other candidates:
December 27, 2004: Connecticut 39, Toledo 10 (Motor City Bowl).
You could argue that a 29-17 home win over Pittsburgh in September was bigger, but this one is more symbolic, as Shelton native and the greatest quarterback in Huskies history closed out his career with a Motor City Bowl thrashing of Toledo. The banner from this win still hangs at Rentschler Field.
November 21, 2009: Connecticut 33, Notre Dame 30 (2 OT)
Connecticut went to South Bend and beat a historical national power at one of the most famous and intimidating places to play in the country, something that was unthinkable to those who remember watching the school play during its 1-AA days, when it was nothing more than a regional also-ran. This was the first of four straight victories to close out the season, which the Huskies finished 8-6. Speaking of that:
January 2, 2010: Connecticut 20, South Carolina 7 (PapaJohns.com Bowl).
How about a bowl game win over Steve Spurrier and SEC challenger South Carolina to cap off the 2009-10 season? The Huskies’ defense shut down the Gamecocks in a statement win, right before Spurrier really started to get things going in Columbia. South Carolina would reach the SEC Championship game the following year.
October 27, 2007: Connecticut 22, No. 9 South Florida 15
Fans rushed the field for the first time ever after then-No. 23 UConn downed then-No. 9 South Florida, which at one point during that season had ascended to a No. 2 national ranking. It was the first time Connecticut had ever beaten a ranked opponent, and the Huskies went on to capture a share of the Big East title with West Virginia.
October 29, 2010: Connecticut 16, West Virginia 13 (OT)
UConn finally outmuscled Big East bully WVU, which had been the class of the conference and a perennial Top-15 team.
December 4, 2010: Connecticut 19, South Florida 16
UConn clinched a Fiesta Bowl berth when it beat USF in Tampa, on a game-winning 52-yard field goal by Dave Teggart. UConn tied for the Big East title with West Virginia, but thanks to that win over the Mountaineers at the Rent, the 8-5 Huskies improbably marched to their first-ever BCS appearance.