After slow start, UConn football secures first Mora-era win, 28-3 over Central Connecticut State – Hartford Courant

EAST HARTFORD — Food trucks and supporters gathered outside Rentschler Field Saturday as 22,442 students and spectators gathered to watch UConn football host Central Connecticut State play its home opener. After a slow start, the Huskies began to wear down the Blue Devil defense in the second half on their way to a 28-3 win, the first of the “Husky Revolution” under new head coach Jim Mora.

It took a while, but after two punts, a fumble and a blocked field goal, the UConn offense was able to find the end zone. True rookie quarterback Zion Turner found tight end Brandon Niemenski in the end zone to give the Huskies a lead with six minutes left in halftime.

Central, an FCS school, kept the game close by allowing just 199 yards and forcing two Husky turnovers in the first half. The Blue Devils even blocked a 54-yard field goal attempt by Noe Ruelas. At first, memories of UConn’s 38-28 loss to FCS Holy Cross in last season’s home opener became increasingly relevant.

“I think execution is a great thing. They weren’t doing anything we wouldn’t have prepared for in practice. We just had to run our offense,” Nate Carter said. “When we got to the locker room (at halftime) that was our plan. We weren’t going to change anything, we knew what we wanted to do, we knew who we were and in the second half we were executed, so we were able to close the game”.

Turner got his first chance in a two-minute drill as halftime approached. He comfortably completed two straight passes that brought the Huskies closer to midfield. On third-and-6, with nine seconds left in the half and a chance in the end zone, Turner backed up and took his time before firing a laser at tight end Justin Joly. That pass, however, was deflected and intercepted by Harold Miles for a Blue Devil touchback.

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“That play is definitely a critical error on my part,” Turner said. “I have to do better at ball security, controlling the ball, just knowing the down and the distance. It’s just being better at those critical decisions.”

Turner completed 14 of 22 passes in his first college start for 172 yards and a pair of touchdowns, good for a 150.2 passer rating.

“In the second half I started to play more freely, just loosen up and play a game of football instead of thinking too much,” Turner said. “This was a hard-fought win, but we know a lot of mistakes were made that we can correct and become a better team.”

UConn finished the first half with 199 yards to CCSU’s 122, though two giveaways into CCSU territory and a blocked field goal attempt kept the Huskies out of the end zone.

In the closing stages of the opening drive in the second half, Dal’mont Gourdine made the defensive play of the game for UConn. A 17-yard completion to Everett Wormley gave the Blue Devils the ball at the UConn 2-yard line. One play later, Gourdine found an open path to quarterback Romelo Williams and brought him down for a 9-yard loss.

“They had a great play before that (sack) to get them there,” Gourdine said. “We play every six seconds, every six seconds is a new mentality. Before the play, (we knew) we needed a big play, we didn’t want them to score.”

A few plays later, CCSU’s 17-yard field goal attempt by Cristiano Rosa rang off the left post, not good.

On the next drive, Carter cut into CCSU’s tired defensive line, racking up yards in small handfuls. Eventually, after a 15-yard completion from Zion Turner to Aaron Turner, Carter found open space in front of him. Seventeen yards later he was in the end zone with his first touchdown of the season and gave UConn a 14-3 lead.

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Carter’s 123 yards on 23 attempts Saturday gives him 313 for the season.

“The game plan was to run the ball. We knew what they wanted to do on defense and on offense we wanted to hit the rock and be able to run the ball and tire them out and it worked,” Carter said.

UConn finished with 272 rushing yards as a team, while Brian Brewton (62) and Devontae Houston (41) each contributed.

Jacob Flynn, a Southington native who took the place of the injured Keelan Marion on the depth chart, caught the first pass of his career, a 10-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that made it 21-3 and gave UConn the flexibility to rotate substitutes in the game.

“That ball that (Turner) threw at me was perfect,” said Flynn, whom Mora refers to as “sweet-footed.”

Then, with 36 seconds left, Bristol Central alumnus Victor Rosa sprinted into the end zone from 11 yards to record the first touchdown of his college career and put the final seal on the game.

Once the team arrived at the locker room, the local duo was harassed by their teammates.

“I’ve talked so much about the character of these guys and the lack of rights that, for me, that was it in a nutshell,” Mora said.

UConn (1-1) will return to Rentschler Field in Syracuse on Saturday, September 10 at 7 p.m.

“We’ll see this movie, we’ll make the corrections, we’ll apply the lessons learned, and then we’ll move on to Syracuse,” Mora said. “There’s going to be a great atmosphere, the lights are going to be on and we’ve got this amazing field being taken care of by the team here. There will be that smell in the air that you love, game night. I mean, man, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to be in the rental on (Saturday).”

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