The good news? A victory for UConn football

Fred Beckham/AP Photo UConn's Lyle McCombs tries to stretch for a few extra yards while being tackled by Buffalo's Kristjan Sokoli during Saturday's college football game at Rentschler Field.

East Hartford - Here's the glass half-empty version:

UConn has a 24-7 lead in the third quarter, is on the verge of burying Buffalo, yet has to stop the Bulls on the game's final drive to preserve a 24-17 victory.

The glass half-full version ... well, that's the one UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni preferred after the Huskies indeed held off Buffalo 24-17 in their final nonconference game of the season on Saturday before 34,666 at Rentschler Field.

"We didn't turn the ball over and that was a big, big factor in the game," Pasqualoni said. "... I was just happy with the effort of the guys. I thought our focus was really good today. I thought we played with energy."

But UConn (3-2), which begins Big East play next Saturday at No. 23 Rutgers (noon, ESPNU), didn't make it very easy on itself.

The Huskies were solid for nearly three quarters and held a 24-7 lead when they began a drive from the Buffalo 48 with 3 minutes, 34 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Three plays later, however, Chad Christen was punting and the UConn offense would become stagnant, gaining only 29 total yards the rest of the game.

Buffalo, meanwhile, re-energized itself with the help of a trick play. Wide receiver Alex Neutz caught a pass from Alex Zordich and performed the old hook and ladder, lateraling the ball four yards past the line of scrimmage to running back Brandon Murie, who turned the corner and sprinted down the UConn sideline 50 yards for a touchdown that pulled the Bulls (1-3) to within 24-14 with 33 seconds left in the third quarter.

"They hit us with a big play," linebacker Jory Johnson said. "The hook and ladder play caught us off guard and they executed well. It gave them momentum moving forward."

Buffalo would pull even closer when Patrick Clarke kicked a 44-yard field goal with 2:32 left to pull the Bulls within a touchdown, 24-17, and the UConn offense - despite getting great field position when Geremy Davis recovered Buffalo's onside kick attempt at the Bulls' 46 - would give Buffalo one more chance following another three-and-out.

But needing an 80-yard drive with no timeouts and only 1:27 remaining, Buffalo could get no farther than its own 39 as linebacker Yawin Smallwood stopped Zordich short of a first down on a fourth-down scramble.

"In the end we were able to answer," linebacker Sio Moore said. "The biggest thing on defense is if you can answer at tough times."

The second-half struggles nearly trumped another solid performance by quarterback Chandler Whitmer. The junior college transfer finished 15-for-22 for 227 yards and a touchdown, but he was particularly efficient in the first half, passing for 152 yards and a 36-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ryan Griffen on the first play of the second quarter.

That capped a marvelous 10-play, 92-yard drive (Whitmer was 4 of 5 for 85 yards) and gave UConn a 10-7 lead, and the Huskies would score on their next possession when reserve running back Martin Hyppolite turned the right corner and went 50 yards for a touchdown with 10:56 left in the half.

Lyle McCombs (29 carries, 97 yards) would make it 24-7 with 5:03 to go in the third quarter by scoring from two yards out on a fourth-and-1 call, but the Huskies wouldn't sniff the end zone again.

"We kind of stalled out a bit," Whitmer said. We need to maintain that focus throughout the game and finish the game strong."

c.banning@theday.com

UConn quarterback Chandler Whitmer (10) is pressured by Buffalo's Kristjan Sokolo during the first half of Saturday's game at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. The Huskies beat the Bulls 24-17.
Fred Beckham/AP Photo UConn quarterback Chandler Whitmer (10) is pressured by Buffalo's Kristjan Sokolo during the first half of Saturday's game at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. The Huskies beat the Bulls 24-17.
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