8:58 PM EDT, October 13, 2012
EAST HARTFORD — He had worn pink socks pulled up almost to his knees during this afternoon. And now those pink socks, reminders of the fight against breast cancer, seemed pale next to Chad Christen's cheeks.
His cheeks were flaming pink, flush with the disappointment of missing three field goals, one blocked, in regulation. Flush with the heartache of missing a 28-yard chip shot in overtime that led to UConn's horrible — horrible — 17-14 loss to Temple at Rentschler Field.
"This is very, very tough," Christen said. "I didn't do my job."
Coach Paul Pasqualoni said the ball didn't sound right coming off Christen's foot Saturday. He said it lacked a certain thump. And when that overtime kick not only went wide right, it sailed weak and wobbly, the temptation among snarky columnists was to thump the junior from Etters, Pa. … Sister Christen [Night Ranger, 1984] blew the game … Christen fell to the pagans … Christen went wide right so many times, he was been endorsed by the tea party …
And then you remember this is a 22-year-old college kid, and he was hurting inside. No, Christen didn't do his job as a kicker on this day. He did do his job as a stand-up young man. He was the first player in the interview room. He answered the questions with a forthrightness that should be the envy of some professional athletes 10 years his senior. And when he was finished, he shook hands with reporters.
None of that, unfortunately, made the football go through the uprights. Yes, he had missed from 36 yards on an otherwise impressive opening drive, but the Huskies went up 14-0 in the first quarter and looked as if they would win 51-0. Nobody thought it would come down to overtime. Yet by the time he went wide right from 42 yards with 12:54 left, that miss did stand as a missed opportunity to go ahead safely by 10 points.
"Obviously, Chad had a tough day," Pasqualoni said. "It's a lonely position."
And it was only getting lonelier. When Christen's 44-yard attempt with 2:52 was blocked, wouldn't you know it? Temple drove 72 yards to tie it with 19 seconds left on a 14-yard pass from Chris Coyer to Jalen Fitzpatrick. Victim: Taylor Mack. One play earlier, Coyer found Deon Miller for 33 yards. Victim: Dwayne Gratz. There is so much pressure on the UConn defense to bail out the team game after game that when it does blink, the result often is disastrous.
After two Christen misses, Pasqualoni had a few options before the blocked field goal. He could have punted to pin Temple deep or gone for it on fourth-and-3.
"I had so much confidence in Chad, my mind-set was, no way he was missing this one," Pasqualoni said. "To tell you the truth, we'd probably do the same thing again."
"That's great," Christen said. "He has a lot of trust in me."
So here was Christen, still armed with his coach's trust, lining up the ball from 28 yards in overtime. It was a chippy, one Brandon McManus would make from a yard longer moments later for a giddy Temple win for Connecticut native Steve Addazio.
"I was pretty confident," Christen said. "Field goals also aren't automatic. I did my best. I missed it."
He missed it.
Filling the big shoes of Dave Teggart, Christen, who had kicked off the previous two years, had been 4 of 4 on field goals at the Rent. He is 16 of 16 on PATs and had been 7 of 10 overall on field goals. All three misses had been long ones — 49, 51, 51 — in which he had the distance, but missed a little right. He had talked earlier in the week about noticing how he switched a couple of things on the longer kicks, something with his hips. He worked on consistency, felt confident from 50.
Who knew he'd miss from 36, 42, 44 and 28?
"Obviously, it's very frustrating when you miss back-to-back kicks and then you have one blocked," Christen said. "That takes away a lot of confidence. Still, I've just got to stay focused. This is the first time I've been tested. It's how you respond from here."
"I'm just going to encourage him," said Pasqualoni, who said absolutely he'd be talking with Christen. "It's a tough deal. It's a tough position. It's a lonely position. He's a great kid. He'll be tough. He'll come back."
The question now is, will the Huskies? This was Game 1 of a stretch of four conference games that not only are winnable, but will decide whether UConn finishes 5-7 and with Pasqualoni on the hot seat or rallies for 7-5 and a bowl game.
Game 1 ended in disaster.
"This obviously is a tough deal on everybody," Pasqualoni said. "That's what football and life is about: adversity."
The Owls under Addazio faced that adversity Saturday. Heck, they lost this game three times and still won. They lost it in the first quarter when they were outgained 192 to 11 yards. They lost it when Montel Harris was stopped cold by Angelo Pruitt and Ryan Wirth on fourth-and-12 inches at the UConn 24 with 8:21 left. They lost it again when Jory Johnson broke through the Temple line on fourth-and-1 at the UConn 39 and threw Harris for a loss with 5:17 left.
"Those two plays really cut me," Addazio said. "I'm a line guy. I'm a run-game guy. That's also probably the best defense in the conference."
And the yardage differential, which would grow to 227 to 8 in the second quarter?
"How do you come back from that?" Addazio said. "Will, grit, determination, fight."
"We talked before the game. No one can break your will. No one can control your will. We control our will. We'll never stop fighting."
Now we see how the Huskies, 0-2 in the Big East, fight. Now we see how Christen controls his emotions as well as his kicks. He remembered back to last year when he kicked a ball out of bounds in the loss to Western Michigan and that led to a score.
"I'm going to go back, take a look at the film and make evaluations," he said. "Every kick I've missed has stayed to the right. It's my job to get it corrected."
The seeds of this horrible outcome, in fact, might have been planted two days earlier in Storrs.
"I didn't have a good practice Thursday and that is our dress rehearsal day," Christen said. "Today is a direct reflection. It carried over to the game.
"It was a whole combination of stuff. Our practice field is not in great condition. I was kicking the same exact kicks and took it out here. It's a matter of technical stuff and bouncing back. I look forward to rebounding from this and staying strong.
"This is very tough. I respect the seniors so much. I know they have my back as much as I have theirs. We stick together, live and die as a team."
Asked what he'd tell Christen, Wirth, one of those seniors, said, "'Keep your head up.' I don't point fingers at anybody. Nobody on our teams does. That's not going to get us anywhere."
And with that, maybe Chad Christen felt a little less lonely.
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