MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP)—Connecticut nearly pulled out a win for Jasper Howard.
Noel Devine’s 56-yard touchdown run in the closing minutes lifted No. 22 West Virginia to a 28-24 win over the Huskies on Saturday in the Huskies’ first game since the starting cornerback was fatally stabbed outside a university-sponsored dance a week ago.
Devine ran for 171 of his 178 yards in the second half as West Virginia (6-1, 2-0 Big East) overcame the inspired play of the Huskies (4-3, 1-2).
“That’s what football is all about—making big plays when your teammates need you,” Devine said.
The determined Huskies outgained the Mountaineers 501-387. Sophomore quarterback Cody Endres threw for a career-high 378 yards and two scores. Marcus Easley caught five passes for a career-high 157 yards, including an 88-yard TD.
“We really wanted to go out and get this win for Jazz, but we came up short,” Easley said.
Connecticut was done in by its own second-half miscues. David Teggart missed two field goal tries, and a fumble and three interceptions ended other promising drives.
UConn coach Randy Edsall will fly his team to Howard’s funeral Monday in Miami.
“I just feel empty,” Edsall said. “The kids played their hearts out and did what we asked them to do. This is a special group of kids. We’ve got to take this and just learn how to play like this all the time.”
West Virginia’s Jarrett Brown, returning from a mild concussion sustained last week against Marshall, ran for one score and threw for another. He also threw the lead block that sprang Devine on a 62-yard run late in the third quarter, setting up Brown’s 1-yard TD toss to Tyler Urban.
Kent Richardson returned one of Endres’ picks 47 yards but fumbled the ball away deep in UConn territory. Endres then found Easley on a crossing route and he went down the left sideline to put the Huskies ahead 24-21 with 3:50 left.
After Devine hugged the right sideline on the go-ahead scoring run with 2:10 left, UConn drove to the West Virginia 33 before Chris Neild intercepted Endres on fourth down.
It was the third time this season that Connecticut couldn’t hold a late lead.
“We just couldn’t make one more play at the end,” Edsall said. “It was a case where we had some big plays against us and some missed opportunities offensively. I’m so proud of these coaches and players, especially the players, for the way they came out and played this game.”
Tavon Austin took the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, the first time that’s happened for West Virginia since 2006. But the Mountaineers accomplished little else until late in the first half, thanks in part to UConn’s relentless blitz.
Brown struggled early. He was intercepted on the Mountaineers’ third offensive possession and recovered his own fumble on the next series.
It took Brown seven series to find his rhythm. He avoided three tackles and completed a 23-yard pass to Alric Arnett, then found Jock Sanders on a screen pass for a 31-yard gain that set up Brown’s 5-yard scoring run.
UConn needed just three plays after Frey returned the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to take a 17-14 halftime lead. Endres, who completed 25 of 41 passes, threw a 17-yard scoring pass to Moore, who had held Howard in his arms after the stabbing and helped carry Howard’s helmet and jersey from the locker room before kickoff.
The crowd of 58,106 gave Connecticut a standing ovation when the team took the field. A moment of silence was held prior to kickoff and the teams exchanged handshakes. Players from both the teams wore stickers on their helmets in Howard’s memory.
“I just couldn’t stop thinking about him throughout the game,” said UConn running back Andre Dixon.