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Towson takes down UConn

The SportsXchange

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Some will say Towson's football program took a giant leap forward on Thursday night with a 33-18 upset of Connecticut at Rentschler Field.

On the other side of the field, the view was drastically different. The Huskies may have reached rock bottom under third-year coach Paul Pasqualoni.

There is validity in both interpretations. This was a monumental result for both the Tigers and the Huskies -- one that the crowd of 30,6890 won't soon forget.

Junior running back Terrance West rushed for 156 yards and two touchdowns and backup Sterlin Phifer scored two touchdowns as Towson claimed its first-ever win over an FBS opponent.

Towson, ranked No. 11 in the FCS preseason poll, intercepted Huskies quarterback Chandler Whitmer once and sacked him five times as UConn lost its season opener for the first time since 2010.

Rob Ambrose, in his fifth season as Towson coach, enjoyed a triumphant return to Connecticut, where he was an assistant under current Maryland coach Randy Edsall for seven seasons at a time when the Huskies made the transition from I-AA to FBS. Towson was 0-6 against FBS schools since 2008.

"I'm sure in the eyes of some it will be considered very, very big," Ambrose said. "We've played big competition before. We've played well, but we couldn't get a win. In the history of this, I suppose one day, people will look back at this as a very large thing.

"But the family that's in this locker room right now, we care about each other and we have goals. It didn't really matter who we played tonight. For us to reach our goals, we had to win."

Pasqualoni, coming off 5-7 records in his first two seasons at UConn, was already on the hot seat. With upcoming games against Maryland and Michigan, the pressure will increase dramatically.

UConn's last loss to a team at the FCS or I-AA level was a 35-17 defeat to Eastern Washington on Sept. 8, 2001. A home crowd of 30,689 booed the Huskies throughout the game and many left after the third quarter.

"It's disappointing," Pasqualoni said. "One of our strengths of our team over the past couple seasons has been our run defense and West by himself had 156 yards."

Towson quarterback Peter Athens scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 7:35 left in the third quarter, capping a 13-play, 95-yard drive to give the Tigers a 19-10 lead. A 6-yard run by West with 6:02 left in the fourth increased the lead to 26-10.

UConn wide receiver Shakim Phillips caught his second TD pass from Whitmer with 3:29 left in the game. Whitmer then passed to Spencer Parker for the two-point conversion to make it 26-18.

The UConn defense forced Towson to punt with 3:04 remaining, but freshman Brian Lemelle fumbled the return and Tanner Vallely recovered at the UConn 30. West completed the scoring with a 5-yard run with 16 seconds remaining.

"It's devastating," UConn safety Obi Melifonwu said. "We have to come back next week and get better. We just didn't play as hard as we could."

Towson, 7-4 last season, led 13-10 at halftime, taking advantage of an interception at the UConn 29 as well as the Huskies' inability to score a touchdown with a first-and-goal on the Towson 1 late in the second quarter. The Huskies left the field a chorus of boos from the home crowd.

Towson defensive tackle Jon Desir tipped a Chandler Whitmer pass but held on to the ball as it dropped between his legs for the interception that gave the Tigers possession at the UConn 29. Towson needed only two plays to score. Phifer ran around right end for 24 yards, then picked up 5 yards to the left for his second touchdown of the game with 7:04 left in the half. D.J. Soven's point-after attempt was wide right and the Tigers led 13-7.

"We work to get our hands up on the quick passes," Desir said. "I was able to tip it. I looked up and it was right in front of my face. It almost hit the ground. I reached for it and had to catch it between my legs. I knew I had it."

Whitmer bounced back with completions of 20 and 22 yards to wide receiver Geremy Davis on UConn's drive. A 22-yard run by tailback Lyle McCombs came up 1-yard short of the end zone but gave the Huskies a first down. A 1-yard loss by McCombs and an illegal substitution pushed UConn back to the 5. After an incomplete pass intended for Deshon Foxx, the Huskies settled for a 22-yard field goal from Chad Christen to make it 13-10.

"The kids are pretty resilient," Pasqualoni said. "I think they know it is one game and we didn't play well as a team in any area."

NOTES: Melifonwu started at strong safety after sophomore Andrew Adams injured his right shoulder late in preseason camp. Melifonwu intercepted Athens in the first quarter, leading to UConn's first TD drive. Adams had surgery and is expected to miss up to eight weeks. ... UConn reserve receiver Kabal Abrams was injured in pregame warmups and was taken to the locker room. It appeared to be an injury to his left knee, but there was no immediate word on Abrams' status. ... Connecticut had a minus-14 turnover margin in 2012.
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