There aren’t more stirring sights in college athletics than when the Brigade of Midshipmen march into Navy Marine Corps Stadium prior to a Navy home football game. It is truly one of the greatest traditions in sports.
And there wasn’t a more gut wrenching sight than the UConn locker room after their heartbreaking 28-24 loss to the Midshipmen on Saturday. I can’t remember a more devastated group of players who put forth a superb effort only to come a half yard short of a signature win.
Before I get into the final 17 seconds, let’s focus on what went right for the Huskies prior to that. Navy dominated the first 25 minutes of the game. They ran their offense to near perfection in scoring on their first two possessions and then after UConn staged a goal line stand, the Middies used a turnover to go up 21-0. It looked for all the world like it would be a long afternoon for the Huskies. But after a fumble on the ensuing kickoff set Navy up at the Connecticut 22, the defense forced a 3 and out and then Foley Fatukasi blocked a field goal attempt. And then the game swung into the Huskies favor.,
Bryant Shirreffs led a terrific 80 yard drive , maybe as good a two minute offense as we’ve seen from the offense in a long, long time, capped by the 34 yard touchdown pass and run by Noel Thomas. Then, the defense forced another three and out on Navy’s first possession of the second half and UConn reached into its bag of tricks for the fake field goal pass from Tyler Davis to Alec Bloom to set up Ron Johnson’s td run that made it a 7 point game. And when Jamar Summers scored on an 86 yard fumble recovery, momentum was clearly in the Huskies favor.
But the final 17 seconds, rightly or wrongly, are what most UConn fans are focused on. The most important part of the sequence, in my opinion, was having to burn the final timeout after the pass to Hergy Mayala that put the ball on the Navy 1. Without that final timeout, it has to impact the play call on 2nd down. There was no guarantee if Johnson was stopped, UConn would be able to clock the ball and get off another play. The confusion over what down it was also was a head scratcher because if you thought it was third down, you have to run a play that would allow you to stop the clock if you didn’t get the half yard needed for victory. Maybe an option play that allowed Shirreffs to roll out and throw the ball away if nothing was open. But Navy, to its credit, stopped Johnson’s running attempt and UConn never got off a final play.
So many Huskies had terrific games. Matt Walsh was brilliant at linebacker with 12 tackles. For the second straight week, Thomas had a career high in receptions with 10. And Shirreffs had his best game as a Husky. Good decisions and tremendously accurate passing. If Bryant plays at this level all season long, UConn will have a very successful season.
This is a very resilient group of players so I don’t think they will have any problems bouncing back from what might have been the most gut wrenching loss since the North Carolina State loss in 2003. They get their first chance to get back on track at home on Saturday against Virginia.