After the Cardinals took a 21-10 lead early in the third quarter the complexion of the game changed - as did the quarterbacks for both teams - as the Huskies rallied for 16 straight points to beat UofL 26-20 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in the Big East opener for both.
The game turned, ironically, on a UConn turnover. On the heals of Bilal Powell's 5-yard TD run, which gave the Cards' an 11-point lead, Huskies star running back Donald Brown fumbled the ball away on UConn's first play on its ensuing possession. Freshman linebacker Dexter Heyman recovered the ball for the Cards on the Huskies' 31.
UofL (2-2, 0-1 in the Big East) had the ball and momentum, but that all too quickly changed when Cantwell got sandwiched as he threw a pass.
"I got hit two different ways, the ankle gave and the knee didn't," Cantwell said. "I hurt my ankle pretty good."
As Cantwell limped to the sideline after that drive failed with a sprained left ankle, it was the Huskies who soon had some pep in their step.
Led by Brown, who came in leading the nation in rushing at 179 yards per game, UConn quickly marched downfield. The Huskies (5-0, 1-0) pulled within 21-17 after backup quarterback Zach Frazer connected with Darius Butler for a 13-yard TD.
Frazer had come into the game late in the first half after UConn starting quarterback Tyler Lorenzen suffered a foot injury.
"It happened in a flash," Frazer recalled afterward. "One second I'm standing there listening to the headphones and the next thing I'm putting my helmet on and going in."
Cantwell, meanwhile, stayed on the sidelines during UofL's ensuing possession. He rode a stationary bike as Tyler Wolfe took the reigns of the Cards' offense.
Cantwell, though, missed just that one series. He returned on UofL's first possession of the fourth quarter. Asked how he felt when he returned to the game Cantwell, who made the decision to return, said: "I felt like I had a sprained ankle."
And Cards' coach Steve Kragthorpe said he had no reservations about Cantwell coming back.
"Absolutely (none), he was ready to play and he was wanting to play," Kragthorpe said. "He was our best option to go in and win the football game."
However the senior quarterback struggled to find the rhythm and tempo that he had in the first half when he completed 14 of 17 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown.
Frazer, meanwhile, seemed to calm down after a shaky start. He engineered a 15-play drive that ended in a Tony Ciaravino field goal that pulled UConn within 21-20.
"Zach Frazer came in and did a tremendous job and kept us poised," UConn coach Randy Edsall said.
Added Frazer: "My team had my back the whole way and I appreciate that."
The Cards, who had had some success getting to Lorenzen (sacking him three times), couldn't get much pressure on Frazer.
"It seemed like they were going to little three-step drops just to get the ball out," UofL senior defensive end Maurice Mitchell said. "(He was throwing) hitches and slants to get six or seven yards at a time, instead of dropping back and passing, giving us time to get there."
In the meantime Cantwell couldn't seem to shake the hitch in his giddy-up.
Upon his return in the fourth period Cantwell misfired on his first two throws intended for freshman wide receiver Josh Chichester, then his third throw was intercepted by UConn linebacker Lawrence Wilson and returned for the go-ahead TD with 2:45 to play in the game.
"I wasn't worried about (Cantwell's ankle), I was concentrating on where I needed to be and hoping the ball would be there, which it was," Chichester said. "So no, I didn't notice anything different from my standpoint."
Cantwell and Chichester connected on back-to-back pass plays after UConn took the lead, but the UofL QB misfired on final five throws. The final of those, intended for Chichester down the left sideline, was intercepted by UConn's Robert Vaughn to seal the win for the Huskies.
After an impressive first half Cantwell was just only 3 for 12 in the second half with 37 yards and two interceptions. In the post- game press conference he refused to blame his injury for his poor play, but it was difficult not to connect the two.
And that means that with the two weeks between the UConn game and the Cards' next game, Oct. 10 at Memphis, Cantwell's ankle should be healed by then.
"With time off I should be fine to play against Memphis," the quarterback said.