Towson stuns UConn 33-18

UConn's Lyle McCombs (43) breaks away from Towson's Ryan Delaire (56) and Thomas Bradley (3) during the first half of Thursday night's season opener at Rentschler Field. Towson beat the Huskies 33-18.
UConn's Lyle McCombs (43) breaks away from Towson's Ryan Delaire (56) and Thomas Bradley (3) during the first half of Thursday night's season opener at Rentschler Field. Towson beat the Huskies 33-18. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo

East Hartford - UConn unveiled its 2013 football team on Thursday night.

It looked hauntingly similar to last year's mistake-prone version.

The season got off to a rocky start with a humbling 33-18 loss to Towson University. It was UConn's first loss to a Football Championship Subdivision team since moving leaving the FCS ranks in 2002.

Costly penalties, shoddy execution and inconsistent line play contributed to UConn's downfall. Boos could be occasionally heard from the restless Rentschler Field crowd of 30,689.

"It's disappointing in the sense we were really looking forward to getting the season started and playing this game," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "We knew it was going to be a tough game. Towson is a very, very good I-AA team."

"… I thought the kids tried but we just didn't play well enough."

UConn has a bye week to regroup and work out the kinks. When the Huskies return to action, they host Maryland (Sept. 14) and Michigan (Sept. 21).

Stating the obvious, they'll need to play considerably better to avoid an early-season slide.

"I think the players will be fine and they will stick together and be supportive of each other and what we're doing and we'll try to get things corrected," Pasqualoni said.

Not much went right for the Huskies.

They failed to contain talented running back Terrance West, the Colonial Athletic Association preseason offensive player of the year. West rushed for 156 and two touchdowns on 36 carries. His six-yard touchdown run with 5:14 remaining sealed UConn's fate, making it 26-10.

UConn's revamped offense under new offensive coordinator T.J. Weist sputtered, sustaining only a few long drives. They sped up the tempo with a no-huddle attack but still too often ended up in the breakdown lane.

Quarterback Chandler Whitmer, when given time, made some decent plays. But, in a scene familiar to last year, Whitmer was under frequent pressure (he was sacked five times). He went 16-for-28 for 206 yards and two touchdowns - both passes to Shakim Phillips - but threw an interception that eventually led to a Towson touchdown. Running back Lyle McCombs had 76 yards on 17 carries.

"He had a hard time seeing over that rush," Pasqualoni said of Whitmer.

In the days leading up to the opener, senior Jimmy Bennett talked about how his offensive line had something to prove coming off a disappointing season. Well, the Huskies still need work in that area.

Overall, UConn allowed 393 yards of total offense, including 201 on the ground. The Huskies had 287 yards of offense.

At least on opening night, the Tigers were the better team.

UConn never led after falling behind 13-10 at halftime.

The normally reliable UConn defense couldn't come up with big stops in the second half.

On Towson's second drive of the third quarter, it converted two third downs and took advantage of a pass interference call to march 95 yards on 13 plays. Quarterback Pete Athens scored on a one-year sneak but Towson missed the extra point, leaving the score at 19-10.

The Huskies went backwards in their attempt to answer, as Whitmer was sacked twice, forcing a punt.

On their first fourth quarter drive, Whitmer fumbled the snap on fourth down and one at the Towson 33, giving the ball back to Towson.

After West scored from six yards out to increase the Towson lead to 26-10, UConn finally responded. Whitmer tossed a 21-yard touchdown pass to Phillips and converted a two-point conversion pass to cut the gap to 26-18 with 3:29 remaining.

UConn forced a punt, but true freshman returner Brian Lemelle fumbled it back to Towson, which turned the miscues into West's 5-yard touchdown run.

The first half showed some hints of promise.

Melifonwu's diving interception stopped Towson's first drive. UConn took over at its own eight.

Whitmer found Geremy Davis, his favorite target, for 24 and 16 yards to move the ball into Towson territory. Then he hit a wide-open Phillips for a 31-yard scoring strike to complete a long 9-play, 92-yard drive.

Towson quickly answered.

Athens hooked up with Sterlin Phifer who slipped behind the defense to haul in a 23-yard touchdown pass.

It was a mixed bag for Whitmer in the first half, as he went 9-for-15 for 129 yards but also threw an interception that led to a touchdown.

Jon Desir tipped Whitmer's first down pass early in the second quarter and caught it. Two plays later, Phifer scored from five yards out for a 13-7 lead with 7:04 left. The Tigers missed the extra point.

UConn had a great chance to take the lead but self-destructed after moving to the Towson 1-yard-line. The Huskies committed an illegal substitution penalty on third down. Chad Christen kicked a 22-year field goal to cut the gap to 13-10 with 1:48 remaining.

g.keefe@theday.com

UConn wide receiver Shakim Phillips turns this reception into a 31-yard touchdown during the first half of Thursday night's season opener. Phillips caught two touchdown passes, but the Huskies lost to Towson 33-18.
UConn wide receiver Shakim Phillips turns this reception into a 31-yard touchdown during the first half of Thursday night's season opener. Phillips caught two touchdown passes, but the Huskies lost to Towson 33-18. Dana Jensend/The Day Buy Photo
The student section was full Thursday night for the University of Connecticut's football season opener against Towson at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. Towson beat the Huskies, 33-18.
The student section was full Thursday night for the University of Connecticut's football season opener against Towson at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. Towson beat the Huskies, 33-18. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo
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