It was shaping up to be a storybook ending for Connecticut and a familiar one for Rutgers.
The UConn Huskies were returning to play their first home game since the devastating loss of their teammate and brother, Jasper Howard.
The Scarlet Knights were heading into their first Big East road game of the season after dropping their first two conference games at home.
With less than a minute left in the fourth quarter, the Huskies were about to take their first lead of the game—a game in which they needed more than any other game this season—and send Rutgers packing.
And the Scarlet Knights, in a game they also needed badly, were about to relinquish a lead they owned for fifty-nine minutes and twenty-two seconds.
So when Jordan Todman waltzed into the endzone with thirty-eight seconds left to give the Huskies a 23-21 lead, the fate of this game seemed like it was signed and sealed.
But it was not delivered. Not this time.
The way this year had materialized for Rutgers up to this point (getting annihilated by Cincinnati and losing a heartbreaker to Pitt) the thought of a comeback, especially under these circumstances, seemed like a fantasy.
And that thought—a thought laced with disbelief and doubt—is where we all went wrong.
Maybe there’s a lot about the 2009 Scarlet Knights we don’t know. Maybe they’re not who we thought they were.
A quick show of hands of who honestly believed Rutgers would come out of Hartford last Saturday with a win after UConn punched it in with thirty-eight seconds left?
No one did, except maybe the men under the red helmets with block “R”s printed in white. But I bet even some of them had given up hope.
Maybe I'm wrong about that, and maybe I was wrong when I wrote about the possibility of Rutgers finishing the 2009 season winless after the Army game.
Well, it’s obvious I was wrong about the latter, because thanks to Tom Savage and Tim Brown, things aren’t looking so bleak for the Scarlet Knights the rest of the way.
That'll learn me, I guess.
After coming down from the euphoria of Tim Brown's miracle winning touchdown reception Saturday, I'm much more optimistic about the Knights' final four games.
What once appeared to be a rocky November road ahead now could ride much smoother after the unexpected (but undoubtedly welcomed) display of grit and resilience by Rutgers against the emotionally charged Huskies.
The first half was an absolute joy to watch as a Rutgers fan.
Devin McCourty returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
Tom Savage looked like a veteran and threw two touchdown passes, one of which was caught by the much talked about true freshman, Mark Harrison.
The defense was stout and held the Huskies offense to three points, while causing several turnovers in the process.
The second half, however? Stressful, to say the least, as Rutgers' offense could not get into gear.
And although the second half was largely commanded by the Huskies who scored fourteen unanswered points to take a 24-21 lead with less than a minute to play, the game’s most pivotal play was not yet made.
And it was arguably the most clutch play made by a Rutgers team since the upset of the No. 2 ranked USF Bulls back in November of 2007, a play that could be the turning point of a season.
And on that one play, Tom Savage and Tim Brown gave us a reason to believe that this Rutgers team should never be counted out.
That this Rutgers team will play for sixty minutes and not a second less.
That this Rutgers team will stand up and confront any type of adversity.
That this Rutgers team will have an identity; an identity that may have just been found.
A win like this is not incomparable to a come from behind, walk-off win in baseball.
It’s the type of win that builds confidence and character; just ask the 2009 New York Yankees.
Now, upcoming road games at Louisville and Syracuse don’t seem as intimidating from a home-field advantage perspective. There’s no way those crowds will be more hostile than those at Rentschler Field.
And hosting South Florida at home appears to be a winnable game, given the Bulls’ recent 41-14 loss at Pittsburgh.
Am I comparing Rutgers to the Yankees? No.
I’m saying the Yankees’ confidence grew after walk-off wins. They believed they could win any game no matter the deficit, and look what just happened. (World Champions Baby! )
This last win at UConn could have a similar effect and help the Scarlet Knights when facing adversity down the road.
Am I saying Rutgers will go on to win their next three or four games?
But I am saying that one play can change a season, and the Scarlet Knights may have just witnessed one.
photo courtesy of nj.com
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