Homecoming Heroics

If Noel Devine hasn't yet considered running for Homecoming king at WVU next year, perhaps he should. For the second consecutive season, the running back was the hero of Homecoming weekend in Morgantown, this time running 56 yards for a touchdown in the final minutes to give his team a 28-24 win over UConn.

Devine's touchdown came with 2:10 remaining in the contest, capping an 80-yard drive that took only six plays. That distance was covered in only 1:40, accounting for the seventh lead change in a wild game.

That play came one season after the junior scampered 92 yards in the final minutes to put a pesky Syracuse team out of reach in what would ultimately be a 17-6 win on the 2008 edition of Homecoming Saturday.

Devine ended up with 178 yards on his 23 carries, averaging 7.7 yards per rush. That average rose substantially in the second half, when the running back had 171 of his yards on only 13 carries. Devine had been held to only seven yards on 10 attempts in the first half.

The West Virginia defense, which struggled throughout the day and ultimately gave up 501 yards to the Huskies, managed to make enough plays to close the game out.

After UConn quarterback Cody Endres hit Brad Kanuch for a 17-yard gain to the Mountaineers' 33-yard line, the visitors moved back five yards on a penalty for an ineligible man downfield.

From there, Endres was sacked for the second time of the game when Zac Cooper hit the signal-caller and forced him to fumble. While the Huskies recovered the ball, they were left with second-and-21 from the WVU 44-yard line.

An incomplete pass on that down only added to the trouble, and a pass to Andre Dixon that covered nine yards only served to give Connecticut a manageable fourth-and-12 on the game-deciding play.

West Virginia dialed up a zone blitz on that play, dropping nose tackle Chris Neild into coverage to attempt to stop the crossing patterns that had been UConn's bread-and-butter all game long.

Sidney Glover and J.T. Thomas got to the Endres and hit him as he threw, forcing the ball to pop into the air and come down in the waiting arms of Neild, sealing the WVU victory.

"I am so pleased with our football team and coaches for finding a way to win -- either by the ground or in the air," said Mountaineer head coach Bill Stewart. "The team was resilient. They never quit believing in each other or the coaches."

Indeed, the home squad had to pick itself up off the proverbial mat in the final minutes. On a third-and-8 play from the Connecticut 12-yard line, Endres hit Marcus Easley for an 88-yard touchdown pass that stunned the 58,106 fans in attendance at Milan Puskar Stadium.

The Huskies celebrated wildly, believing that they were in position to secure a huge win in the wake of last week's death of cornerback Jasper Howard. Ultimately, that was not to be.

This game recap presented by The Book Exchange
The pain of that reality was apparent on the faces of the UConn players. Team captain Desi Cullen walked off the field at game's end, sobbing and seemingly inconsolable.

"I'm just at a loss for words," said Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall. "I just wanted this so bad for these players, for Jasper and his family. We just came up a bit short."

His team gave West Virginia all it could handle on this day, recovering well from an early blow and dominating with its defense for long stretches of the opening half.

While Stewart noted earlier in the season that teams seemed to be kicking away from Tavon Austin, Connecticut showed no such fear on the opening kickoff. The Huskies proceeded to pay the price for their decision.

Austin went untouched after fielding the ball at the WVU 2-yard line. His 98-yard touchdown return was the first kickoff return score for the Mountaineers since Darius Reynaud ran one back against Maryland in 2006.

It was the seventh-longest return for a touchdown in program history and the first non-offensive touchdown of the season for the Mountaineers.

While the quick start could have served to take the wind out of the Huskies' sails -- especially after their offense went three-and-out on the ensuing possession -- the team's defense managed to turn the tide.

West Virginia went three-and-out on its first two drives. Its third possession ended when quarterback Jarrett Brown was intercepted by Robert Vaughn.

In the process, the Connecticut offense managed to find its form. Endres found tight end Ryan Griffin for 17 yards on a third-and-4. Later, running back Jordan Todman ran in untouched after executing a fake reverse to perfection, tying the game at 7-7.

The UConn defense continued to stymie its opposition, forcing another pair of WVU punts.

As time began to wind down in the second quarter, Endres found Kashif Moore for a 34-yard completion. Two plays later, the signal-caller hit Easley for 24 more yards and UConn had the ball at West Virginia's 11-yard line.

A personal foul penalty for hands to the face against the Huskies' Moe Petrus backed the team up, and head coach Randy Edsall's team had to settle for a 38-yard Dave Teggart field goal.

Those three points, scored with 2:53 remaining in the half, gave UConn a 10-7 lead and started a spree of scoring by both squads.

On the ensuing possession, the Mountaineer offense finally had its first snap in Huskies territory. That play, an incomplete pass from Brown to Jock Sanders, came with 1:46 remaining in the half.

"Offensively, we were out of whack early," Stewart said. "We were scrambling."

"They blitzed on every down. We didn't have an answer until we regrouped."

On that same drive, Brown avoided a Huskies rush on third-and-4 from the UConn 5-yard line and found open field on the left side of the formation. The quarterback took advantage of a key block by Wes Lyons, who sealed the edge and allowed Brown to run in untouched for a score.

WVU led 14-10 with 49 seconds remaining in the half but managed to bungle away the lead in that span of time.

Stewart called for a squib kickoff on the ensuing change of possession, and Robbie Frey returned it up the middle for 38 yards. That put his team in position at the Mountaineers' 42-yard line with 41 seconds left in the half.

Endres passed for 16 yards to Easley on the first play of the drive. Only two plays later, the quarterback found Moore, who fought through tackle attempts on his way to a 17-yard score.

UConn had a 17-14 lead at the break after the three-play, 42 yard scoring drive, which took only 20 seconds off the clock. Adding insult to injury, Brown was sacked by Lindsey Witten on the final play before the intermission.

Stewart said his team had to make adjustments in the locker room to account for the Huskies' aggressive defense. Those corrections paid dividends in the final 30 minutes.

The teams exchanged missed field goals on the first possessions of their respective drives. Teggart missed from 27 yards away, and Tyler Bitancurt misfired for the first time of the season, pushing the ball wide to the right from 42 yards out.

The Huskies were driving and in WVU territory, but Glover forced and recovered a Todman fumble at his team's 33-yard line.

Four plays later, Jarrett Brown found Tyler Urban in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown. The offense was put in position after a 63-yard rush by Devine.

Endres threw an interception into the waiting hands of West Virginia cornerback Keith Tandy on the ensuing drive, but the Huskies' defense forced a three-and-out to keep their opponents from adding to their lead.

Endres and company got as close as the WVU 22-yard line after a 29-yard completion to Isiah Moore on their next possession, but Teggart missed his second field goal of the half when his 44-yard attempt bounced off the left upright.

The kick, which came with 12:48 remaining, came after a false start penalty on Zach Hurd that nullified a 39-yard kick that had gone through cleanly.

After a Mountaineer punt, UConn caught a break. Endres threw a deep pass that was picked off by cornerback Kent Richardson, who proceeded on a long return down the field.

? Easley forced the ball free when he finally hit Richardson, and Ryan Griffin recovered to give his team a fresh set of downs from its own 10-yard line. Three plays later, Easley went for his 88-yard touchdown, giving his team the lead with 3:50 remaining and setting up the frantic finish.

Brown was 16-of-27 for 153 yards with one touchdown and one interception in his first action since being knocked out of last week's game against Marshall with a minor concussion.

Jock Sanders had eight receptions for 81 yards.

For UConn, Endres passed for 378 yards and completed 25 of his 41 attempts -- two of which went for touchdowns -- but he also threw three interceptions.

Todman had 94 yards on the ground on only 20 carries, but teammate Andre Dixon had only 38 yards on his 14 attempts. Easley had 157 yards on his five receptions.



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