UConn comes back, 26-21

UConn (5-0, 1-0) rallied from a 21-10 second half deficit to beat Louisville (2-2, 0-1), 26-21, in the Big East season opener Friday night at PJCS.

This one didn't come down to a fair catch, but it did have some similarities.

Last year Connecticut beat the University of Louisville 21-17 thanks to an (un)fair catch - Larry Taylor's 74-yard punt return for a touchdown after he seemed to signal for a fair catch - and the Huskies' 14 fourth-quarter points that helped them rally from a 17-7 deficit.

Last night UConn's biggest catch was by linebacker Lawrence Wilson - who returned a late Hunter Cantwell interception for a touchdown - as the Huskies rallied from a 21-10 deficit to beat the Cards 26 -21 in the Big East opener for both at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in front of 42,523 fans.

It was a loss that left a sour taste in the mouth of Louisville (2 -2, 0-1 in the Big East), which dominated much of the game. The Cards outgained the Huskies (5-0, 1-0) 508-279 yards in total offense.

"A disappointing loss, one we had control of and let slip away, just a couple of key mistakes on our part," UofL coach Steve Kragthorpe said. "It's a game of turnovers and we made too many turnovers and we didn't capitalize on their turnovers."

The Cards had three turnovers (two interceptions and a lost fumble) to UConn's one (a lost fumble). Two of UofL's miscues led to 10 points by the Huskies.

"We let one get away," Cantwell said. "We had some breakdowns in the second half, but we should have won the game. We gave UConn some opportunities and to their credit they took advantage of it."

Cantwell completed 17 of 29 passes for 247 yards and a TD, but he was just 3 of 12 for 37 yards with two interceptions in the second half. After the Cards took a 21-10 lead Cantwell suffered a sprained ankle that forced him to miss one third-quarter series. He returned in the fourth quarter, but was 2 of 10 with two INTs in the period.

"I'm not here to make excuses, it was my decision, I went back into the game," the senior quarterback said. "I'm not going to sit here and say my ankle caused it, it was a bad decision that cost the team."

There were some bright spots for the Cards. Bilal Powell rushed for a career-high 112 yards on 11 carries, while Victor Anderson had his third straight 100-yard game, reaching the century mark on 19 carries. Doug Beaumont had six catches for 106 yards.

Meanwhile Donald Brown, the nation's leading rusher coming in (179 yards per game), gained 190 yards on 33 carries for the Huskies. Reserve quarterback Zach Frazer also completed 8 of 15 passes for 90 yards and a TD. Frazer replaced starter Tyler Lorenzen, who injured his foot in the first half.

In last year's game Louisville took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.

Last night it was UConn that took the early lead with some help from its defense.

The Cards got the ball first and quickly moved to midfield when Cantwell found Doug Beaumont wide open in the middle of the field. Beaumont broke to his left and sprinted toward the sideline when he was corralled from behind by UConn cornerback Jasper Howard and stripped of the football at the 20. Wilson recovered the fumble and returned it to the UConn 38.

Boosted by a big 23-yard run by Brown the Huskies got three points out of the turnover thanks to Tony Ciaravino's 47-yard field goal. Other than that, though, UofL dominated the first quarter, outgaining UConn 131-34 in total yards.

The Huskies, however, more than doubled that total on their first possession of the second quarter with an eight-play, 71-yard scoring drive. Brown accounted for 59 yards on the drive, all on the ground, including a 1-yard TD run that put UConn up 10-0.

The Cards had an answer, though, on their ensuing possession. Cantwell started it off with back-to-back completions of 25 yards to Beaumont and 17 to Maurice Clark - it was his first career catch. Then Anderson and Brock Bolen did the rest, combining for 38 yards on five rushes. Anderson capped the seven-play drive with a 2-yard TD dive to make it 10-7.

Then after stopping UConn on its next possession - in which Frazer replaced Lorenzen at QB - UofL embarked on an 11-play, 88-yard scoring drive. Cantwell connected on 6 of 7 passes on the drive, including an 18-yard TD to Anderson on first-and-goal from the 18.

The Cards gained 325 yards - 120 more than they had in the season- opening loss to Kentucky - of total offense in the first half. UofL kept UConn's defense off balance with 21 rushes and 17 passes. Anderson had 53 rushing yards while Cantwell completed 14 of 17 passes for 210 yards and a TD. Beaumont had five catches for 103 yards.

Meanwhile Brown had 124 yards and 13 carries, but the Cards' D kept him contained most of the half.

The Cards picked up where they left off on their first possession of the second half. After stopping UConn, UofL drove downfield in just seven plays, taking a 21-10 after Powell's 5-yard TD run.

The Huskies, however, answered with a nine-play, 72-yard scoring drive that was capped by Frazer's 13-yard TD pass to Darius Butler. It cut Louisville's lead to 21-17. The drive was kept alive thanks to a roughing the passer penalty on the Cards.

The Huskies then held the Cards, who were without Cantwell, on their next possession. Cantwell rode a stationary bike on the sidelines as Tyler Wolfe took over at quarterback.

Cantwell returned in the fourth quarter and the Cards seemed to be energized immediately, even though they were trapped deep in their own territory. On second-and-10 from the UofL 2 Powell ran 52 yards for the Cards. The drive stalled, however, thanks to a false start penalty.

"We had too many drive killers," Kragthorpe said. "We had a couple penalties there on third-and-short a couple of times that made them third-and-mediums."

Then UConn went back to work. The Huskies embarked on a 15-play, 68-yard drive that ended in Ciaravino's 29-yard field that cut the Cards' lead to 21-20 with 5:32 remaining.

With the clock on their side the Cards picked up one first down before Cantwell was intercepted by Wilson on third-and-7 at the UofL 40. Wilson returned it 45 yards for the go-ahead TD with just 2:45 to play. The conversion pass failed, but UConn still led 26-21.

The Cards had two more possessions. On the first Cantwell connected with Josh Chichester on back-to-back passes to quickly move UofL from its 34 to the UConn 31. But after an Anderson rush Cantwell threw three straight incompletions. The last one, deflected by linebacker Scott Lutrus, came on fourth-and-7 from the Huskies 29.

The Cards kept the Huskies from getting a first down, but barely had any time to work with after the UConn punt. Cantwell threw incomplete for Anderson, then his pass down the left sideline intended for Chichester was intercepted by safety Robert Vaughn.

Louisville has an open date next week, then travels to Memphis on Oct. 10.

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