Temple comeback dooms Huskies

Temple defensive end Marcus Green, right, celebrates after UConn kicker Chad Christen (13) missed a 28-yard field goal in overtime during Saturday's game at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. UConn's Cole Wagner, left, looks on.
Temple defensive end Marcus Green, right, celebrates after UConn kicker Chad Christen (13) missed a 28-yard field goal in overtime during Saturday's game at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. UConn's Cole Wagner, left, looks on. Michael Dwyer/AP Photo

East Hartford - Just when you thought you had this UConn football team all figured out, the Huskies leave you shaking your head.

Again.

Here's the latest example:

UConn's defense, the program's strong suit all season, stops Temple three times on fourth-and-one in the fourth quarter alone, then sacks Temple quarterback Chris Coyer twice on the final possession of regulation.

Game over? Hardly.

Inexplicably, the Huskies allowed the Owls to tie with game with only 19 seconds left in regulation, then a Homecoming Day crowd of 37,279 put forth a collective grown when placekicker Chad Christen missed a 28-yard field goal in overtime - completing an 0-for-4 day - and Temple's Brandon McManus converted a 29-yarder moments later to stun UConn 17-14.

"It was one of those games," Coach Paul Pasqualoni said after UConn's most brutal loss of the season. "Not everything in a football game is going to go your way, obviously, and some of those things did not go our way, but you've got to be able to overcome them. You've got to be able to win the game. That's the bottom line."

And the bottom line right now is UConn is 3-4, winless in the Big East at 0-2, and searching for something … anything … positive to happen.

It looked like that was going to happen Saturday when quarterback Chandler Whitmer came out and led the Huskies to a pair of scoring drives and a 14-0 first-quarter lead, completing 8 of 10 passes for 159 yards and throwing touchdown passes to wide receiver Michael Smith (15 yards) and tight end Ryan Griffin (42).

Even when Whitmer cooled off … and even when Christen missed his first three field goals (one was blocked) … UConn's defense seemed to have control of the game, allowing just a 24-yard touchdown run by Temple's Montel Harris with 3:09 left in the half.

But after Trevardo Williams sacked Coyer with just under a minute remaining, leaving Temple with third-and-13 from the UConn 47, the Huskies failed to finish the job. Coyer found Deon Miller along the UConn sideline for a 33-yard gain to the 14 with 25 seconds left, then hit a wide-open Jalen Fitzpatrick on the very next play (it appeared cornerback Taylor Mack slipped when Fitzpatrick made his cut to the corner of the end zone) to tie the game.

"That drive was inexcusable," defensive tackle Ryan Wirth said. "That's not a part of who we are and as a team we're going to go back and fix it."

Temple (3-2, 2-0) won the overtime coin toss and decided to put the UConn offense on the field first. It was a good call. Despite getting a first down and driving to the Owl 11, the Huskies were forced to settle for another field goal and Christen's kick was wide right.

"This is very, very tough," said Christen, a junior who replaced the most prolific kicker in UConn history (Dave Teggart). "I respect these seniors so much. I wish I was able to get my part done, but I know they have my back."

Harris, a Boston College transfer who finished with 142 yards on 30 carries, had consecutive runs of 2, 10 and 3 yards in overtime and after Coyer took a 2-yard loss to center the football, McManus drilled his 29-yarder to give the Owls an improbable win.

"At the end Temple made two plays that were probably the difference," Pasqualoni said. "We didn't capitalize on all the point opportunities and had a tough day. Sometimes in the world and the life of a kicker … well, it's a lonely and tough position. I'm sure he'll bounce back and move on from it."

Whitmer finished 22 of 39 for 293 yards while Shakim Phillips - another BC transfer - had seven receptions for 100 yards.

Max DeLorenzo, a redshirt freshman Berlin, started at tailback in place of the injured Lyle McCombs (ligament sprain in his right wrist), and had a respectable game (23 rushes, 91 yards). But the Huskies continued to struggle running the football, averaging only 2.1 yards per carry.

"It's very disappointing," Wirth said. "When you put it all out there, you want to come out of there with a 'W' and when you don't it's very disappointing. We're going to have to go back and figure out what happened and patch it up because we've got Syracuse in six days.

"I practice the 24-hour rule. I'll feel sick tonight, then wake up positive tomorrow and ready to go. We can't get (this) back."

c.banning@theday.com

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