Owls Get Kick Out of OT Victory

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – The first Connecticut player to make his way from the locker room to the interview room Saturday was something of a surprise.

It would have been understandable if placekicker Chad Christen had been in no mood to talk or take questions from reporters. It would have been understandable if it had taken a long time for Christen to gather himself before facing the music.

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni had just wrapped up his media session, calling kicking a "tough deal, a tough position, a lonely position." He referred to Christen as a great kid who's "pretty tough" and then Christen proved it. Just seconds after Pasqualoni departed, Christen entered the room and accepted blame for his four missed field goals on a day when Temple defeated the Huskies 17-14 in overtime at Rentschler Field.

"It's a matter of me not doing my job," Christen said in stoic fashion. "Every time I get the opportunity, I've got to make those. That's where the trust comes in with Coach Pasqualoni. I look forward to rebounding from this and staying strong. I know all my teammates are supporting me to the fullest."

And they did – even though this was a devastating loss that could send the season tumbling to an ugly destination for the Huskies. There was silence as the players filed into the UConn locker room after the game. That was followed words of resolve as the Huskies head into a short workweek with a game at Syracuse on Friday night.

With Big East games remaining at Syracuse, at USF, at Louisville and home games against Pittsburgh and Louisville, it is hard to pick any matchup and predict a certain win for this UConn team.

"We moved the ball pretty well but the name of the game is to score points and we left a lot of points on the field," said wide receiver Michael Smith, who caught five passes for 54 yards and his first touchdown of the season – a 15-yard reception that gave UConn a 7-0 lead. "We missed field goals but it's not just on Chad.

"It's about us not executing in the red zone and not getting in the end zone. . . . We can't come out scoring 14 points on offense and expect to beat anybody on any level in football. We've got to take the pressure off Chad and put the ball back in the end zone."

Christen, who had quieted all the preseason talk of replacing Dave Teggart by hitting 7 of 10 field goal attempts coming into this game, missed a 36-yard attempt in the first quarter and a 42-yarder early in the fourth quarter.

With 2:52 left in the game, Christen lined up for a 44-yarder to give the Huskies a 17-7 lead that likely would have been good enough for a win. The ball came off his foot cleanly but was blocked by Temple's Deon Miller.

And finally, on the first possession of overtime, Christen had a chance to give the Huskies the lead. But his 28-yard attempt was wide right after UConn (3-4, 0-2 Big East) had stalled at the Temple 11.

Seven plays later, Temple (3-2, 2-0) switched into celebration mode after Brandon McManus booted a 29-yard field goal to give the Owls back-to-back Big East victories for the first time in school history. Temple had trailed 14-0 after one quarter and had been outgained 192 yards to 11 in those 15 minutes.

When it was all over, UConn's yardage advantage was a slim 381-334. If not for heroic back-to-back stops by the UConn defense on fourth-and-one plays near the end of regulation, the Huskies might have lost before OT.

Temple celebrates OT victory (US PRESSWIRE)

"It wasn't pretty, in fact at times it was downright ugly," said Temple coach Steve Addazio, a protégé of Pasqualoni's and a man many UConn boosters supported during the 2011 coaching search after Randy Edsall left for Maryland. "But the moral of the story here is we found a way to win. There was a lot of adversity on the football field and on the road. But this young team fought that adversity and came all the way back."

Playing without starting running back Lyle McCombs, who sprained his wrist and damaged a ligament in last week's loss to Rutgers, the Huskies appeared ready to clip the Owls' wings in the first quarter. Temple's defense couldn't apply pressure to quarterback Chandler Whitmer in the early going and he completed eight of his first 10 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns. At one point Whitmer completed nine consecutive passes. And on the seven-play, 66-yard drive that ended with the TD pass to Smith, Whitmer completed passes of 25 and 17 yards to Shakim Phillips.

UConn's next drive covered 63 yards on five crisp plays and culminated with a 42-yard strike from Whitmer to tight end Ryan Griffin. If Christen had made the 36-yard attempt on UConn's initial drive, the Huskies would have led 17-0.

"Shocked," Griffin said when asked to express his reaction to the loss. "That's the worst way to lose a game. The defense did their part. The offense again, seems like a recurring theme. We just stall. We started off pretty good, then we lost steam down the stretch. [Temple] did some things in the second half that we ought to be prepared for."

Temple managed just eight yards of offense on its first four possessions of the game, but the Owls got their act together and rolled to 113 yards and a touchdown over the last two possessions before halftime.

The Owls were threatening to score a second time when UConn's Yawin Smallwood stripped the ball from running back Montel Harris and recovered the fumble at the UConn 25 with 19 seconds left before halftime. That allowed the Huskies to hold on to that 14-7 lead at the break.

UConn had dominated until late in the second quarter when the Owls marched 80 yards on six plays, scoring on a 24-yard run by Harris. The drive took just 2:58 off the clock and cut UConn's lead in half. To that point, Temple had picked up just one first down but the Owls had back-to-back first downs on the drive and moved into UConn territory for the first tie on a 33-yard run by Harris to the Huskies' 32.

Harris finished with 142 yards on 30 carries. Max DeLorenzo, filling in for McCombs and making his first career start, led UConn with 91 yards on 23 carries. Freshman tailback Joseph Williams recorded his first career carry and picked up six yards on three carries.

Whitmer, who was sacked six times, completed 22 of 39 passes for 239 yards and was not intercepted. But in this, UConn's second consecutive loss, all the familiar storylines popped up again after the quick start.

"I feel like what we do is we create our own energy and then if something doesn't go exactly how it's planned, then we just lose it and deflate," Whitmer said. "We've got to be able to create energy but continue that energy even when things aren't going well."

UConn hasn't figured out that formula. It seems Temple has. Saturday, they were two programs headed in opposite directions.

"It was ugly, it was downright not good in the first half," Addazio said. "But the foundation of our program, of what I want our program to be, is a gutsy, hard-nosed, tough-assed program that will fight you. That's what I want. That means everything to me."


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