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    Saturday, November 26, 2022

    UConn stuns Fresno State to earn first win over FBS opponent since 2019

    UConn quarterback Zion Turner looks to throw during the first half the Huskies’ 19-14 upset win over Fresno State at Renschler Field in East Hartford, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. (Jessica Hill/Hartford Courant via AP)

    East Hartford – Needing to march 94 yards late in the fourth quarter to get in position to pull off a stunning upset, true freshman quarterback Zion Turner stepped into the huddle with positive thoughts.

    “I was just thinking, get the job done,” Turner said. “We all believe in each other.”

    The UConn football team certainly got the job done.

    Sophomore running Devontae Houston capped the decisive 11-play drive by scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a 17-yard run with two minutes, 20 seconds left and UConn’s defense finished off Saturday’s 19-14 victory by stopping Fresno State on fourth down. The Huskies came into the game 23.5 point underdogs.

    The dramatic, confidence-building victory snapped a three-game losing streak and allowed the Huskies (2-4) to beat their first Football Bowl Subdivision opponent since defeating UMass, 56-35, on Oct. 26, 2019 in Amherst.

    “A win like this helps them believe in what we’re doing and what they’re committed to and the culture that we’re trying to build and the mindset that we’re trying to build as a football team, the attitude, the intensity and effort,” coach Jim Mora said.

    They also surpassed last year’s season win total and avenged a 45-0 loss at Fresno, a member of the Mountain West, in the 2021 season opener.

    “It feels unbelievable,” senior linebacker Ian Swenson said. “It feels so good to get a team win. Defense played amazing and offense got it done when they needed to. … And it just feels awesome to beat the team that killed us last year. We wanted revenge and we got it.”

    Coming off consecutive blow-out losses to top 25 opponents on the road (No. 4 Michigan and No. 10 N.C. State), UConn put together its best all-around effort of the season.

    The Huskies made big plays on both sides of the ball.

    Offensively, Turner showed confidence beyond his years and experience. He completed eight of 15 passes for 130 yards and threw a touchdown pass. Houston rushed for over 100 yards for the first time in his career, finishing with 105 yards on 23 carries.

    Houston entered the season as the third running back before Nate Carter and Brian Brewton suffered season-ending injuries. He’s been playing with a sore shoulder.

    “I just knew they needed me,” Houston said. “I feel like I’m a person you can rely on, no matter what.”

    UConn played inspired defense, forcing three turnovers and stopping Fresno State on fourth down twice, including snuffing out the Bulldogs’ last chance with a minute and a half left. The Huskies allowed just 187 yards of total offense.

    Mora said earlier in the week that he felt the Huskies were on the verge of a breakout performance.

    “I’m excited for those guys,” Mora said. “I preached it a lot, told you guys this a lot and told UConn football fans this a lot, that these guys are a little bit different than guys I’ve been around. They’ve been through a lot. Through the trials they’ve been through, they’ve built resiliency up.

    “Those things can start to sound like empty words or coachspeak, but a game like this, to me, confirms who those young men are. They’re tough kids and they’re committed. They care about each other and they care about winning. They do the work that it takes to win.”

    UConn was the aggressor right from the start. The Huskies finally opened up their offense, throwing the ball downfield for the first time this season. They even ran a trick play that ended with Turner connecting with wide receiver Kevens Clercius for 39 yards.

    But they had only six points to show for it at halftime.

    A pair of field goals by sophomore Noe Ruelas (26 and 28 yards) sent UConn into the locker room trailing 7-6. It was only the second time this season the Huskies have been within one score at the break.

    In the opening half, redshirt freshman Pryce Yates recovered a fumble at the UConn 30 and Swenson made an interception at the UConn 21.

    Fresno State (1-3) scored its first touchdown on Nikko Remigio’s electrifying 87-yard punt return. The Huskies missed six tackles on the play.

    At halftime, UConn had outgained Fresno 113 yards to 95.

    Fresno State scored on its first possession of the third quarter, marching 62 yards in five plays and taking advantage of two UConn penalties. Jordan Mims scored on a 1-yard run for a 14-6 advantage.

    Then the teams traded turnovers.

    Houston lost a fumble deep in Fresno territory but senior Tre Wortham’s interception got the ball back for the Huskies who set up at the Bulldog 19.

    UConn took advantage, as Turner connected with Aaron Turner for a five-yard touchdown pass with 5:18 left in the third quarter. The Huskies went for two, but Zion Turner’s pass fell incomplete, leaving the deficit at 14-12.

    The Huskies kept the faith and cashed in when they got the ball back with the game on the line, completing the season long 94-yard scoring drive.

    “This one is just the beginning,” Zion Turner said. “Next week we’ve got FIU so we’re looking forward to getting another win and just keep pushing.”

    UConn added another player to the injury list, as starting defensive back Durante Jones left the game with a head injury.

    g.keefe@theday.com

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