UConn football team ends regular season with loss at Army, falls short in bid for seventh win

WEST POINT, N.Y. — The UConn football team traveled to U.S, Military Academy Saturday with the task of completing its regular season with a seventh victory in Jim Mora's inaugural season.

A seventh win would seemingly secure a spot in a postseason bowl for the independent program. And facing an Army team that's struggled all season, the game appeared winnable.

Instead, the Huskies ended the season with a 34-17 loss and will now wait to see whether they are on the outside as the bowl picture shakes out.

“As disappointed as we all are, it is important we just take a step back and realize what those young men have accomplished,” Mora said. “This was a team that I think the over/under in Vegas was 2.5 wins, not that I care about Vegas because I don’t, but it was there in print. Right now, we are sitting on six and hopefully have a chance to play another game.”

UConn finished 6-6, eligible for a bowl berth. But with no conference affiliation to contractually tie the program to a bowl game, UConn's path is complicated.

A seventh victory — which would have come on Mora's 61st birthday Saturday — was an obvious way to enhance the resume as the school makes its case to bowl administrators. And it appeared promising when the Huskies took a 17-13 lead midway through the third quarter.

But Army (4-6) scored two touchdowns in the third and added another in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

UConn repeatedly got in its own way, failing to convert in the red zone and racking up offensive penalties. 

“We had 10 penalties on offense, we had two interceptions, we got the ball within the one (yard line) twice and got three points out of it,” Mora said. “We had a punt block go for a touchdown and another punt for just 18 yards. A shanked punt that ended up traveling a good distance that we had a penalty on that cost us about 30 yards and then we had a 75-yard touchdown run against us in the third quarter. That was the story of the game, us shooting ourselves in the foot.”

The loss ends UConn's three-game winning streak, a run that included an upset win over nationally-ranked Liberty last week. The team had won five of six after a struggling during a daunting early-season schedule that included ranked Power Five programs Michigan, Syracuse, and NC State.

“To not recognize what has transpired on this team would be a mistake on my part,” Mora said. “Because these men are special. What they have gone through to get to this point, the COVID year, the years of losing… going through that three-game gauntlet where we got knocked around pretty good, but man, these guys just kept going and never lost hope. I have not seen them relent one time.”

The "disappointing loss" sends UConn back to Storrs with question marks regarding the near future, as it will anxiously await bowl selection news. 

“They have this week off, school is out and then it is Thanksgiving so they will be back next Sunday,” Mora said. “We will meet Sunday and I would assume that we would practice the following week in hopes we get a bowl. I don’t know if we will get a bowl or not, fingers are crossed. I would love to have another chance to go out and fight with these guys and I know they would appreciate a chance to play together one more time. I hope that we have earned that and if not, I can’t tell you. But until the word come out one way or the other, then we will go out and practice.”

UConn found itself in a hole early at historic Michie Stadium. The team's first drive ended when a punt by George Caratan was blocked on the Huskies 19 and returned by Army's Miles Stewart for a touchdown.

So UConn trailed by a touchdown just 2:03 into the game. 

The Huskies drove 67 yards on 14 plays on their ensuing possession, ending with a 26-yard field goal by Noe Ruelas after being stuffed at the one-yard line. 

On its next offensive drive, UConn marched 63 yards on 10 plays in 4:05 before being stuffed again at the one-yard line, this time on 4th & Goal for a turnover on downs. 

“We needed to execute better at the one-yard line,” UConn true freshman running back and Bristol native Victor Rosa said. “I have to get into the endzone on that one play. We just have to execute better. The score shouldn’t have been what it was at halftime.”

UConn took the lead early in the second quarter when Rosa ran 43 yards for his team-leading ninth touchdown of the season. Rosa rushed for 105 yards in the first half, and finished with 112 total to set a new career high. 

“Victor (Rosa) has been very impressive, but it hasn’t been surprising to me,” Mora said. “I got to go out to see him play probably about a year ago now and it was Victor to the right, Victor to the left, Victor to the right, Victor to the left and he was getting the heck beat out of him. He is tough and relentless. He has the ability to stay on his feet. He takes a lot of hits, but they are kind of glancing hits, and he has a nose for the end zone.”

Army mounted an 11-play 75-yard drive late in the half and took a 13-10 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Jemel Jones.

Despite trailing by three points, UConn outran Army in the first half with 203 rushing yards against triple-option Army's 109 yards on the ground. Army would break out in the second half however.

When the game finished, Army had 333 rushing yards against UConn's 266. 

“We did a good job (against the run) except for. Except for a 75-yard run, except for a 34-yard run, and those are the ones that kill you,” Mora said. “When you are a really good defense, and we are moving towards that, you don’t have those ‘except for’ plays.”

After UConn's defense forced a three-and-out on Army's first drive of the second half, UConn marched 70 yards on a drive that featured a 33-yard pass from Zion Turner to Kevens Clervius. UConn scored on 1-yard run by Turner at 8:33 of the third quarter and seemed poised to seize control of the game.

Instead, Army responded with a touchdown as Braheam Murphy ran 75 yards for the score. Army added another third-quarter touchdown on a run by Tyhier Tyler, who also scored in the fourth quarter.

Turner, the true freshman quarterback, was 14 of 24 for 116 yards and two interceptions.

UConn was penalized 11 times for 78 yards, including seven false starts. 

“It is a very disappointing day for us as a team,” Mora said. “We have been playing well and today we didn’t. We really hurt ourselves. That being said, hats off to Army. That is a class team, and it is an honor to play on these hallowed grounds.”

UConn's last winning season was in 2010, when the Huskies were 8-5 after losing to Oklahoma in the New Year's Day Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. Head coach Randy Edsall left the program for Maryland after that game, and the team was 15-33 over the next four seasons under Paul Pasqualoni and Bob Diaco.

“Obviously this is not the way we wanted to end, 6-6 is average and we wanted to be 7-5, above average,” Rosa said. “I just want to make this bowl game and get an extra game for our seniors. I love this team and I appreciate my brothers.”

UConn's last bowl appearance was in 2015, when the Huskies were 6-6 and earned a spot in the St. Petersburg Bowl. UConn lost to Marshall, finishing the season below .500 and setting the stage for a free fall.

The program was 10-50 over the next five seasons, which included Edsall's failed second tenure as head coach. Mora was hired in November 2021 amid the team's 1-11 season.

Mora's first season began with a loss at Utah State, but the roster was riddled with injuries throughout the first half of the season. Turner and Rosa were not expected to be contributors as freshmen, yet they stepped into prominent roles.

“We just put together a good culture and we bought in,” UConn linebacker six-year senior Ian Swenson said. “Obviously there is a lot more to that, the extra work we put in on the weight room and the field, but I think we just believed in each other, and we had each other’s backs.”

“It could be my last game at UConn,” Swenson added. “I am going to remember the people first off, all the people I have been fighting with for six years. It has been a pleasure with all of them. I appreciate it all.”

The upcoming anxious weeks of awaiting bowl selections won't be easy for anyone involved with the program, but regardless of the outcome, this team has defied expectations throughout. 

“It was a great season, after we got through that hard part of the schedule we really locked in and we started doing what we said we were going to do,” Rosa said. “The Husky Revolution. We were 6-5 to become bowl eligible, first time in a few years. It is great because that is what we said we were going to do, but 6-6 is not how we wanted to end it.”

Said Mora, “I hope UConn nation, Husky nation is proud of the direction these players are taking this program. Those are hard words when you are as disappointed as we are today.”