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    UConn Football
    Monday, January 30, 2023

    Puyol's game-winning kick caps rally for UConn in 13-10 win over Virginia

    UConn's E.J. Levenberry (12) and teammates celebrate after the Huskies rallied in the fourth quarter for a 13-10 win over Virginia on Saturday at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

    East Hartford — It's comforting for the UConn to know during pressure-packed, game-winning moments it can turn to the man with the Golden Leg.

    That's placekicker Bobby Puyol.

    For the second time this season, Puyol, a redshirt senior, jogged onto the field late in the fourth quarter and booted the game-winning field goal.

    On Saturday, Puyol's 43-yard kick sailed through the uprights with one minute, 33 seconds remaining, handing the Huskies a come-from-behind 13-10 nonconference victory over Virginia before 31,036 fans at Rentschler Field.

    "It was crazy," tailback Arkeel Newsome said. "I call him The Golden Leg. He's a beast."

    Puyol, who also had a 21-yard field goal and is a perfect 4-for-4 this season, downplayed his clutch kick. He booted the game-winner from 37 yards out with 11 seconds left in a 27-24 win over Maine in the season opener on Sept. 1.

    "I've been through a lot since I've been here my freshman year," Puyol said. "To hit two game-winners in three weeks is pretty special. I'm super blessed."

    UConn (2-1) survived a late scare. Virginia (0-3) quickly moved the ball to the 3-yard-line with precious time running down. Without a timeout left, the field goal unit rushed to set up and just barely got the play off before the game ended. But kicker Alex Furbank, a former Division III soccer player appearing in the first football game of his life, misfired wide left.

    The Huskies, who trailed 10-3 entering the final quarter, stormed the field to celebrate the dramatic victory. They rebounded from a devastating 28-24 loss to Navy last week that ended with UConn inside the 1-yard line when time ran out.

    "It's unbelievable," said cornerback Jamar Summers, whose huge interception early in the fourth quarter set up UConn's only touchdown. "We go out there and battle our butts off. To definitely see it pay off is definitely incredible."

    After the game, Puyol sought out Furbank to offer him some encouraging words. He endured his share of ups and downs during his career and emerged stronger, becoming one of the most reliable kickers in Division I football. He's converted 20 of 22 field goal attempts in the last two seasons.

    Puyol grew from having three straight point-after-attempts blocked last season, including one in a 9-6 loss at Missouri.

    "The Missouri game kind of changed my life, how I do things and how I go about football and go about life," Puyol said. "I'm here now. I've come through a lot."

    It took another fourth quarter rally to rescue the Huskies, who have trailed in the second half all three games this season due to sluggish starts.

    UConn sputtered in the opening two quarters, managing only Puyol's 21 yard field goal in the second quarter. The Huskies were outgained 209-96. The Cavaliers capped two long drives with points — Furbank's 23-yard field goal and Albert Reid's 9-yard run for a 10-0 lead.

    Momentum began to shift in the third quarter. UConn's defense went into lockdown mode, continually giving the offense the ball in good field position.

    Turnovers hurt the Huskies, too. Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs forced a throw into the end zone and defensive back Juan Thornhill came up with an interception late inn the third quarter.

    "Dumb play by me when we could have put points on the board," Shirreffs said.

    Then on the next possession, Newsome, who rushed for a game-high 77 yards, fumbled a pitch away and Virginia recovered at the UConn 26-yard line.

    On the very next play, an alert Summers picked off Kurt Benkert's pass over the middle.

    "I noticed in film study that they like to do a lot of pop patterns," Summers said, "so I relied on that when making that play."

    The Huskies cashed in with the help of two third down penalties by Virginia that generated first downs. Shirreffs dove in from the one-yard line to cap the 9-play, 37-yard drive to tie the score at 10-all with 7:55 remaining.

    After the UConn defense delivered a huge fourth-down stop at its own 24 by stuffing Reid's run for no gain, the Huskies began a 50-yard drive that stalled at the Virginia 26. That's when Puyol trotted onto the field.

    "Having a kicker like Bobby is incredible because you have confidence that you get points," said Shirreffs, who went 13-for-24 for 154 yards. "I have a lot of faith in him as does the whole team. He's proven what a good kicker he is. He's an elite kicker in the country."

    The postgame celebration from UConn locker room could be heard down the hall.

    "It was great," coach Bob Diaco said. "We howled a little bit at the moon and then we sang the fight song. ... We mourn (losses) for 24 hours and then we celebrate for 24 hours and then we're on to the next thing."

    The Huskies finished with just 277 yards of total offense against a team that came in allowing an average of 578 yards in two games.

    g.keefe@theday.com

    UConn placekicker Bobby Puyol, top, celebrates his game-winning field goal with Tyler Davis (9) in the fourth quarter of the Huskies' 13-10 victory over Virginia on Saturday at Renschler Field in East Hartford. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)
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