Story By: Deborah Leung
Photos By: Benjamin Rogers, Jr
Navy had already blown a 21-point lead, and now the Midshipmen were in desperate need of a late stop to stave off another Connecticut comeback.
Aided by a questionable bit of clock management by the Huskies, Navy pulled out a 28-24 victory Saturday.
Will Worth scored two touchdowns in his debut as Navy’s starting quarterback, the last on a 1-yard run with 3:08 remaining following a 26-yard punt return to the UCONN 17.
That made it 28-24, but Connecticut wasn’t done.
The Huskies moved 79 yards to the Navy 1 and took their final timeout with 17 seconds left, even though the game clock had stopped on an out-of-bounds play.
Ron Johnson was subsequently stuffed on a rush attempt, and time expired before Connecticut could run another play.
“That goal line stand symbolizes who we are,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “Things looked bleak. I didn’t see the play. I was closing my eyes praying and I have no idea what happened. Shows you what kind of coach I am. I just looked up and our guys were cheering.”
“We practice that,” linebacker Daniel Gonzales said. “You just lay on the guy until the ref pulls you off.”
Huskies coach Bob Diaco was at a loss to explain what transpired on the Connecticut sideline during the game’s final seconds. He talked about the uncertainty of where the ball was placed, whether a pass was a better call than a run, and then the timeout call because the play clock was about to expire.
“We called two plays but they did not let everyone get up off the ground,” Diaco said. “I am not complaining or making excuses. I take full accountability.”
The Midshipmen (2-0, 1-0 American Athletic Conference) scored on their first two possessions and went up 21-0 on a 2-yard fumble return by Alohi Gilman in the second quarter.
Connecticut (1-1, 0-1) recovered to the take the lead before Worth scored the game’s final touchdown.
Worth, a 6-foot-1 senior, started in place of Tago Smith, who tore his right ACL in the season opener against Fordham.
In addition to capably directing the triple option, Worth ran for 44 yards, completed his first four passes and finished 6-for-8 for 130 yards.
Bryant Shirreffs completed 23 of 26 passes for the Huskies, who were coming off a 24-21 win over Maine and looking to go 2-0 for just the second time since 2008.
“They are really, really hurt,” Diaco said. “We had enough errors collectively as a staff and as a team to not win.”
After Navy jumped to a 21-0 lead, the Huskies battled back. Shirreffs threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Noel Thomas with 1:10 left in the first half, Johnson scored on a 3-yard run and Jamar Summers rambled 86 yards with a fumble by fullback Chris High.
Bobby Puyol kicked a 38-yard field goal with 9:08 remaining to give the Huskies their first lead at 24-21.
Thomas finished with 11 catches for 116 yards.
UConn: The Huskies showed their mettle in rallying from a 21-0 deficit, which bodes well for a team looking to take the next step after going 6-7 in 2015 following a 2-10 disaster in 2014.
Navy: Worth performed capably in his first start, and will likely improve with experience. Showing poise and confidence, Worth blunted the notion that Navy’s triple option would sputter with a newcomer at the helm.
UConn: The Huskies host Virginia next Saturday. The series is tied 1-1, with UConn prevailing 45-10 in 2008 in the last meeting between the teams.
Navy: The Midshipmen take to the road for the first time, visiting Tulane on Saturday night before a bye week.