After consecutive losing seasons, this was not the way Paul Pasqualoni wanted to open his third year at Connecticut.
Towson running back Terrance West ran for 156 yards and two touchdowns as the Tigers won for the first time against an opponent from the bowl subdivision, upsetting UConn 33-18 in the season opener for both teams Thursday night.
They dominated the Huskies, putting up 393 yards while holding UConn to just 287.
”We didn’t play well, and I don’t know of an area we did play well in,” Pasqualoni said.
Quarterback Peter Athens threw for 192 yards and another score and running back Sterlin Phifer caught a 23-yard touchdown and ran for another.
West carried the ball a career-high 36 times, and broke the 100-yard mark for the 12th time in his career. The junior’s two fourth-quarter scores put the game away.
”From the beginning of the game I saw we could handle them,” West said. ”We were prepared for this event today.”
Receiver Shakim Phillips had two touchdown catches for Connecticut, and Geremy Davis caught five balls for 100 yards in the losing effort.
The Huskies, who are coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons, had not lost to an FCS team since 2001, when they were making the transition from Division I-AA to Division I.
”It hurts,” said UConn linebacker Yawin Smallwood. ”We’ve been working hard all offseason. We have to pick our heads up.”
The Tigers were up 13-10 at halftime and trailed just once, at 7-0.
The Huskies were held scoreless in the second half of this one until quarterback Chandler Whitmer hit Phillips with a 21-yard touchdown pass with 3:29 left in the game that cut the deficit to 26-18.
But on UConn’s next opportunity, freshman Brian Lemelle fumbled a punt. West, who now has 46 career touchdowns, then put the finishing touches on the upset, scoring from 5 yards out with 16 seconds left in the game.
Connecticut took an early lead after a 92-yard drive that was set up with a diving interception by safety Obi Melifonwu. The redshirt freshman was pressed into a starting role when Andrew Adams went down in camp with a shoulder injury. Nine plays after the pick, Whitmer found Phillips breaking toward the left corner for a 31-yard catch-and-run.
Towson answered in just four plays. Phifer swung out of the backfield on a delay pattern and Athens found him wide open for a 23-yard touchdown.
Phifer scored again in the second quarter on a 5-yard run. That came two plays after Jon Desir tipped and intercepted a Whitmer pass at the UConn 29-yard line, a ball that ended up between Desir’s legs.
The Huskies put together an 11-play drive and a had a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line after a 22-yard run by McCombs, but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal and went into the half trailing 13-10.
Towson controlled the second half.
Athens took the Tigers on a 13-play, 95-yard drive in the third quarter, finishing it himself. His dive from a yard gave the Tigers a 19-10 lead. Leon Kinnard, a transfer from UConn, made the big play of the drive, catching a 39-yard pass that set Towson up at the UConn 25-yard line.
Connecticut drove into Towson territory, but fumbled on fourth-and-1 at the 33-yard line, giving Towson the ball back.
The Tigers then drove 62 yards in 10 plays, with West going in from 6 yards out. The junior, who carried the ball a career-high 36 times, ran 1,051 yards as a sophomore, after rushing for almost 1,300 yards and scoring 29 touchdowns as a freshman.
Towson returns 15 starters from a team that went 7-4 a year ago, barely missing the playoffs after winning its final four games. They had been 0-6 against FBS teams before Thursday night.
”I’m sure in the eyes of some, this will be considered very, very big,” said Towson coach Rob Ambrose. ”But we’ve played good competition before. We’ve played well but couldn’t get a win. In the history of this, I suppose one day people will one day look back at this as very large thing. But the family in this locker room, we have goals. And for us to reach our goals we had to win.”
UConn’s Whitmer completed 15 of 27 passes for 199 yards and the two touchdowns. Husky running back Lyle McCombs had 76 yards rushing on 17 carries.
UConn fell to 9-3 in season openers since making the jump to the FBS in 2002, including 9-2 at Rentschler Field.
”You can’t hang your head,” said Whitmer. ”You’ve gotta stay positive and come back to work on Saturday and get ready to go. The next game is up. This one is over.”
Ambrose is familiar with Connecticut, where he served as offensive coordinator under former coach Randy Edsall.
Edsall will be back in two weeks with his Maryland team.