UConn football team celebrates at Rentschler after imperfect win: ‘A hell of a start’

EAST HARTFORD – Victor Rosa rumbled in the end zone for the final points of a flawed but ultimately comfortable 28-3 victory over Central Connecticut on Saturday afternoon and UConn football players celebrated on the field in the tunnel and in the locker room at Rentschler Field.

“That’s a hell of a start there,” coach Jim Mora said.

It was new. A win that UConn didn’t have to agonize over or apologize for, a postgame optimism that had always felt absent, a satisfaction those in the crowded student section wouldn’t recognize.

Because ‘The Rent’, as it is called, has been the scene of such embarrassment – a setting for the home team’s silly play to turn into something equally deflating – the September games at East Hartford had become the springboard to lost seasons and disastrous coaching tenures, even reason for the average fan to wonder why UConn bothers to try and play the sport at the level it does.

On Saturday, the Huskies did what any major remote functional college football program absolutely must do.

They exhausted an oversized and overmatched opponent from the lower level Football Championship subdivision.

“I hope our fans, the people who don’t know if they want to join us, give us the benefit of the doubt,” Mora said afterwards. “I hope they intervene. I can tell you this: if they do, they will be rewarded.”

UConn had 446 yards of offense to Central’s 242. The Huskies scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter — including Rosa’s, not necessarily needed with 36 seconds left — as Central huffed and puffed and was cramped. The Huskies started slow but eventually and methodically took care of business, a year less than a day after an embarrassing loss to Holy Cross that saw Randy Edsall announce his retirement within 24 hours and pack his bags within 48 hours.

Much of UConn’s performance was far from inspiring, but the bottom line is that the Huskies played against a team they should beat by three or four touchdowns and that’s exactly what they did. . UConn hadn’t beaten an FCS team by more than seven points since 2012, one demoralizing victory after another.

A crowd of 22,442 people was announced. Far fewer fans were actually in attendance. The Huskies host Syracuse, a rival in another life, next Saturday night at Rentschler Field.

“If we can get more people there I think it can be a great environment, with the lights on, the weather should be great, the smell of grass,” Mora said. “It’s going to be real football.”

Real football? The state will take it, if it can get it.

Perhaps more than anything, before big, long-term goals were achieved, UConn just had to get out there and look somewhat competent and somewhat interesting. Saturday’s was a useful demonstration, a small step towards respect.

“Everybody’s happy,” said first-year quarterback Zion Turner, who made his first start and went 14 of 22 for 172 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. “We know we can build on that.”

These FCS opponents are meant to be a type of warm-up guest who gets paid — $275,000, in this case — to take their pieces. Except that UConn has been so incompetent over the past nine years, since the program began to unravel a bit under Paul Pasqualoni, that even those “guarantee” games didn’t guarantee much beyond a few busts. statewide head.

The Huskies lost to Towson 33-18 in 2013, barely passing Stony Brook the following year, 19-16. The 2015 win over Villanova was just 20-15, and a 24-21 win over Maine in 2016 required a Bobby Puyol field goal with 11 seconds left. UConn trailed Holy Cross 20-7 at halftime in 2017 and managed a seven-point win.

The 2018 Huskies, with one of the worst defenses in college football history, needed a late Eli Thomas sacking to get past Rhode Island in 2018. A 2019 win over Wagner was 24-21. Zzzzzz, said the crowd. Thank goodness the Huskies scheduled two FCS teams last year, needing the game against Yale for its only win of the season.

Bob Diaco came and went during the program fade. Accumulated losses under Edsall — arguably both the best and worst coach in program history for his separate jobs — have forced UConn to rebuild from the ground up under Mora. Who knows what happens from here? But the team managed not to embarrass each other through two games and it’s a start.

“It’s a change of mindset, a different culture,” said running back Nate Carter, who rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, giving him 313 yards this season. “We are not the same team, mentally, as we were last year.”

Listen, the bar is so low right now. UConn struggled early. The plucky Blue Devils took a 3-0 lead in the second quarter, left a first and a Situation 2 goal scoreless instead of taking a 10-7 lead in the third and missed several potentially game-changing plays that would have put some pressure on UConn’s ability to pull off what turned out to be an easy win.

Huskies kicker Noe Ruelas threw a field goal attempt behind a lineman. Dajon Harrison fumbled a punt. Turner had a pass caught in the end zone to close out the first half. At this point in this type of play, to inspire real confidence in winning the following week, UConn would need to be up three points, tossing the ball all over the court.

The team is not yet made for that.

At least it’s not designed to completely self-destruct.

Dal’Mont Gourdine took advantage of a breakdown on the offensive line and sacked Romelo Williams, pushing Central back to the UConn 11. Three plays later, Christiano Rosa’s field goal attempt clicked the left post, leaving the Huskies with a 7-3 lead. at the start of the third trimester.

UConn took over from there. The 25-point win was the program’s biggest margin since beating Central Florida 40-13 in 2015. The three points allowed Saturday were the Huskies’ fewest since a 7-3 win at Tulane, also in 2015.

The first step in this revolution, as Mora and his people call it, had to be simply to put an end to the rotating rounds of teams that show up at Rentschler with less resources and fewer purses and somehow manage to another to run up and down the field with the Huskies. UConn had outscored its last nine FCS opponents by just 237-228 combined.

“It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination,” Mora said. “We had a very good second half.”

The locker room ?

“It was joyful,” Mora said. “The things they’ve been through, the things they’ve had to face, the way they’ve stuck together, the commitment they’ve shown. It’s almost overwhelming, really.

[email protected]; @ManthonyHearst

About the author