EAST HARTFORD, CT - With the score tied at 31-31 and just over 1:00 left in the game, junior Tres Moses mishandled a punt near his own goal line, which Connecticut recovered and converted into the game-deciding touchdown three plays later for a stunning, 38-31 victory on Senior Day at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. Rutgers built a 17-7 lead, but engaged in a see-saw battle during the second half of play that produced arguably the most exciting, and most frustrating, game of the season.
With the loss, RU falls to 4-5 while UConn improves to 8-3.
The second half produced a flurry of exciting plays, including four scoring plays in the final 8:04 and three touchdowns in the final 4:30 of play.
Rutgers struck first when it marched down the field on its first possession of the game and Ryan Sands converted a 23-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead at the 10:37 mark. Connecticut took a brief, 7-3 lead on the ensuing possession, but two possessions later, senior Nate Jones blocked a punt by Adam Coles and Markis Facyson returned it 36 yards for his first touchdown of the season and a 10-7 RU lead.
With time running out in the second quarter, the Scarlet Knights struck again to extend its lead to 10, 17-7. On third-and-four from the UConn 26, Ryan Hart found Facyson down the right sideline for his 12th TD pass of the season. The drive, which covered 66 yards, was highlighted by a 13-yard run by Facyson (first play from scrimmage) and an 18-yard run by Brian Leonard, which moved the Scarlet Knights into Connecticut territory.
After managing just 101 yards of offense in the first half, Connecticut doubled that total on its first two drives of the third quarter. Both drives resulted in touchdowns and a 21-17 lead for the Huskies. Cornell Brockington polished off the first drive with a 15-yard run, while Dan Orlovsky hit Tim Lassen with a four-yard strike for the second.
On the next possession, however, Rutgers settled itself and marched down the field, using the receiving skills of Moses and the rushing skills of Brian Leonard to bully its way to its third touchdown of the game and a 24-21 lead with just under two minutes remaining. Moses had a key, third-down reception that extended Rutgers’ drive while Leonard carried six times for 21 yards, culminating in a one-yard TD run.
With Rutgers marching down the field and chewing up time in the fourth quarter, Connecticut produced a huge swing in momentum, when James Perkins picked off a Ryan Hart pass and returned it 59 yards to give Connecticut good field position, trailing by just three points. Following back-to-back first downs to open the drive, Connecticut stalled in its red zone, settling for a field goal by Coates and a 24-24 tie.
At this point, things got very interesting. Following a Rutgers punt, Connecticut took control at its own 37-yard line. Gary Gibson sacked Orlovksy for a nine-yard loss on first down and, following an incomplete pass, Orlovksy hit Keron Henry with a 72-yard catch-and-run scoring pass to give the Huskies the lead, 31-24. Flushed out of the pocket, Orlovsky fired down the right sideline for Henry, who caught the ball in his fingertips and raced away from the RU defense for the tie-breaking score.
Rutgers came right back on the next drive and after back-to-back completions by Hart pushed the offense to the Connecticut 35-yard line, Leonard rumbled into the end zone to tie the game at 31-31.
Rutgers’ defense stopped the Huskies without a first down, forcing Coles to punt. He dropped a ball in front of Moses, who attempted to snag a tricky hop, only to have the ball leap over his shoulder and underneath a pile of UConn defenders.
Hart finished the game 18-for-32 for 211 yards and one TD, while Leonard gained 184 yards on 33 carries, both season highs. Moses caught a game-high six passes for 42 yards.
"It was certainly a heck of a football game - a game that we came up on the wrong end of," said head coach Greg Schiano. "All of the momentum swings and all of the great plays and excitment that you look for were in today's game. We'll be in many more of these down the road and we will win our share, I'm sure of that."
Leonard Sets Season High in Rushing Attempts, Yards (33, 184)
Brian Leonard set a season high for rushing attempts with 33, surpassing Justise Hairston’s mark of 31 vs. Navy (9/27). Leonard carried just 13 times in the first half, for 56 yards, but rushed 20 times for 128 yards during the second half. His 35-yard TD run in the fourth quarter erased a 31-24 deficit. Leonard’s rushing total is the most since Jacki Crooks ran for 189 vs. Navy on 11/10/98. It is also the 13th-best single-game total in RU history.
RU Goes Over 100 Yards For Seventh Time in 2003; Over 200 for Second Time
With 224 rushing yards today, Rutgers eclipsed the 100-yard mark in rushing yards for the seventh time in nine games. Rutgers did it just twice in 2002 (9/14 vs. Army; 9/28 at Tennessee) and five times in 2001. Rutgers has also had four individual 100-yard efforts this season – two each by Leonard and Justise Hairston. The 224 marks the second time this season RU has had more than 200 yards in a game (249, 9/27 vs. Navy)
Sands Sets Career High with First Quarter Field Goal
Senior K Ryan Sands’ 23-yard field goal in the first quarter was his seventh of the season, establishing a career high. (Sands was 6-for-6 on field goal attempts in 2001). Sands has also converted 6 of his last 7 attempts, spanning four games. His last miss came on Sept. 13 vs. Army (39 yards). He is now 7-for-11 this season and has 98 points in his career.
Jones’ Block is Third of His Career
Nate Jones’ blocked punt in the first quarter was the third block of his career, but first punt block. Jones blocked two field goals last season (vs. Buffalo, at Syracuse) and his block at Syracuse resulted in a 91-yard touchdown return for Brandon Haw. Rutgers has four blocks on special teams this season (2 FG, 1 punt, 1 XP – three vs. Navy) and has now scored six non-offensive touchdowns this season.
Aug. 30 vs. Buffalo.......................... Tres Moses – 66 yard punt
Sept. 6 at Mich. State.................... Brandon Haw – 61 yard INT return
Sept. 13 at Army............................. Brian Bender – fumble recovery in end zone
Sept. 27 vs. Navy............................. Brandon Haw – 88 yard blocked FG return
Oct. 4 vs. Virginia Tech.................. Jarvis Johnson – 47 yard INT return
Nov. 8 at UConn............................... Markis Facyson – 36-yard blocked punt return
Hart Strikes Again
Ryan Hart’s 26-yard TD pass to Markis Facyson in the second quarter was his 12th TD pass of the season, moving him into a tie for ninth place on the single-season list with Mike McMahon (1998). He also finished the game with 211 yards, improving his season total to 2,162, which is the fourth-best single-season total in Rutgers history.
Hart has also thrown at least one TD pass in eight of nine games this season.
1. Scott Erney (1989)......................................... 2,536
2. Mike McMahon (1998)................................ 2,209
3. Ray Lucas (1995)............................................. 2,180
4. Ryan Hart (2003)........................ 2,162
5. Mike McMahon (2000)................................ 2,157
RU Defense Stands Up in First Half for Second-Straight Game
Connecticut’s offense, which entered the game ranked sixth nationally with 487.7 yards per game, managed just 101 first-half yards (45 rushing, 56 passing). The 101 represents the second-straight game in which Rutgers has held the opponent near 100 total yards in the first half (102 at Temple – 10/25). Here are the first-half totals thus far in 2003:
Buffalo – 115
Michigan State – 332
Army – 81
Navy – 229
Virginia Tech – 273
WVU – 267
Pittsburgh – 427
Temple – 102
UConn – 101
In the last two games, Rutgers has allowed seven points and 203 total yards of offense in first-half play.
Leonard Extends Streak
For the ninth-straight game this season, RB Brian Leonard had at least one rushing attempt and one reception. Leonard also scored on a one-yard TD run in the third quarter, giving him 11 TDs this season, the most since Terrell Willis scored 13 in 1993. Leonard has 12 TDs and 1 two-point conversion in 2003 for 74 points, just six shy of Willis. In his last three games, Leonard has scored nine TDs.