By DESMOND CONNER, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
6:53 PM EST, November 24, 2012
LOUISVILLE, Ky. —
There was just no describing the look on Chad Christen's face after he missed four field goals in a three-point overtime loss at home to Temple last month.
"Eh, I forgot all about that game," an elated Christen said Saturday. "That game didn't happen. It's erased from memory."
It'll be a while before the junior kicker erases this one from the bank.
No, Christen will remember this one for a long time — all the Huskies will.
It's not every day that they beat a ranked team or even play one, but that's what happened at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium before 45,618. UConn beat 19th-ranked Louisville and won 23-20 in triple overtime. Christen, who missed four field goals against the Owls on Oct.14, sealed the victory with a 30-yarder in period three.
UConn improves to 5-6, 2-4 in the Big East. Louisville, having lost back-to-back games, is 9-2, 4-2.
"I felt confident there. I knew I could do it," Christen said. "It felt great."
Maybe Christen knew he was going to have a good day. The game-winner was his third made field goal of the game. His first, a 39-yarder in the first quarter, hit the right upright and trickled in true. He hit a 37-yarder to answer Louisville kicker John Wallace's 37-yarder to start OT.
Christen is 7-for-7 since Temple. That can't be forgotten, and neither can this: The last time the Huskies beat a ranked team was South Florida, then ranked No. 11, in 2007. The Huskies have now won back-to-back games for the first time in the two-year Paul Pasqualoni era. Some of the players were able to get rid of some of the taste of 26-0 blanking the last time the Huskies were here, in 2010.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson's play was the highlight of a sterling defensive effort that was there for the better part of regulation. (This three-OT win by the way, is the Huskies' first since toppling Notre Dame 33-30 in three in 2009 in South Bend.
Yes, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (30 of 53, 331 yards two TDs and a pick) rolled up monster numbers, but he couldn't roll up monster points. Louisville came into the game averaging 33.2 points a game.
UConn shut out its opponent in the first half for the first time in 15 games Saturday.
"Our job, as the defense, was to make him uncomfortable all night," said sophomore linebacker Yawin Smallwood, among three Huskies who had 11 tackles, along with senior cornerback Dwayne Gratz and linebacker Jory Johnson.
Senior defensive end Trevardo Williams had three sacks, and senior linebacker Sio Moore had six tackles, two of which led to Bridgewater injuries.
"We felt if we could stop the run and really show that we could stop the run, at least we would know he had to throw the ball, and maybe he wouldn't get us with much play-action stuff, which is a big, big part of what they do on first and second down," Pasqualoni said. "I don't know the final statistics on the run [27 total yards for the Cardinals], but I know we did a good job here against the run today."
UConn had a 10-0 lead by halftime from the Christen field goal and a 3-yard run by Nick Williams. It was his first career rushing TD, coming with 10 minutes, 20 seconds left in the half to complete a 10-play, 66-yard scoring drive.
But we know about the offense's second-half futility. It has yet to a score a third- or fourth-quarter touchdown in six Big East games. It is what it is, and it didn't get any better when Chandler Whitmer (7 of 21, 72 yards, one interception) was knocked out of the game with just under 10 minutes to play following a blow to the head by Louisville linebacker Preston Brown. He'll be further evaluated, but Pasqualoni said he thinks Whitmer suffered a slight concussion. The Huskies got an outstanding rushing effort from Lyle McCombs (29 carries, 133 yards), his second straight 100-yard game — and it was big for the offense.
Down 10-3 at that point, Bridgewater (who broke his left wrist after he was planted to the turf by Sio Moore just before the half) finally broke through a defense that had been giving him fits all game when he found Devante Parker for a 6-yard score with 21 seconds left in regulation. It tied the game at 10-10.
Bridgewater was hurt in the first OT on a crunching hit by Moore and Tim Willman and had to be helped off with an apparent leg injury – but he would be back.
Wallace started the OT scoring and was answered by Christen. Johnny McEntee (2 of 7, 20 yards, TD), last year's starter, replaced Whitmer. He found Shakim Phillips for his first score of the season, from 3 yards.
"You don't really think about it," McEntee said. "You've got to just get in there and do what you've been prepared to do."
The play showed remarkable patience and what check downs (when your main target is blanketed) are supposed to look like, because Phillips was not the primary on the play.
Bridgewater wasn't going to let that play sit too long. The first play after UConn's extra point was a 25-yard hit from Bridgewater to Parker again – 20-20.
The Cards started the third OT with the ball: Bridgewater to Parker, boom, 16 yards. The next play was a 4-yard completion. After an incompletion on second down, on third-and-goal, Bridgewater decided to go at Wreh-Wilson, whom he had tested a lot to no avail.
Not this time, either. Wreh-Wilson seemingly anticipated the play and picked the ball off in the end zone, setting up the dramatic finish for Christen.
"Needless to say, we're proud of the kids, proud of the team," Pasqualoni said. "They came down here and showed the kind of character they have and how hard they've been working, and that they're determined to stay with and make something out of their season. We're just proud of them."
Defensive coordinator Don Brown echoed that when he came out of the locker room with a fresh haircut and a smile on his face that was about as wide as Christen's.
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