EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (November 11, 2006) - D.J. Hernandez (Bristol, Conn.) raced in with a two-point conversion in the second overtime to give the University of Connecticut a wild, come-from-behind 46-45 victory over Pittsburgh before 40,000 at Rentschler Field.
The win, the Huskies first in BIG EAST play this season against three losses, improves the Connecticut overall record to 4-5. The Panthers drop to 6-4, 2-3 in the conference.
Pittsburgh scored first in the second overtime on a one-yard run by LaRod Stephens-Howling. Conor Lee’s extra-point put the Panthers ahead, 45-38. On Connecticut’s possession on the alternate possession dictated by NCAA overtime rules, freshman running back Donald Brown II (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.) rambled in from the 10 for his second running score of the day. Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall called timeout, discussing the possibility of going for two-points and the win. When the Huskies returned from the sidelines, Pittsburgh head coach Dave Wannstedt called a timeout when the Huskies failed to send out place kicker Tony Ciaravino (Boca Raton, Fla.). Pittsburgh went all out after Hernandez, who had rolled out to the right. Hernandez was almost tripped up in the backfield, but he regained his balance and dashed into the end zone to give the Huskies the win and set off a huge celebration for the Huskies.
Both Brown and Hernandez were immense throughout the contest. Brown, making just his second career start, set his career-high with 205 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He also caught a pretty touchdown pass from Hernandez midway through the fourth quarter igniting the Husky comeback from down 31-17. Hernandez had a spectacular game, both running the ball and passing. He amassed his career-high with 130 yards rushing on 17 attempts, but shone with his passing prowess, especially after intermission. Hernandez completed 20 of 29 passes for 164 yards and a career-high four touchdown passes. He was a sizzling 16 of 20 in the second half and overtime and led the Huskies on two long drives in the last 7:53 of regulation to tie the contest.
Pittsburgh seemed to have the game well in hand, up 14 in the final period, and the Panthers pinned the Huskies at the Connecticut 2 after a nice Adam Graessle punt. Hernandez led the Huskies right down the field, 98 yards in 12 plays. The key play being a beautiful 38-yard keeper by Hernandez. On fourth-and-five from the Panther 8, Hernandez scrambled and found Brown in the end zone for the score. The ensuing Pittsburgh drive stalled and the Huskies took over at their own 23 with 3:14 to play. Hernandez completed his last five passes on the drive, climaxing with a one-yard pass to Dan Murray (Gloucester, Mass.)in the end zone to tie the score with three seconds to play.
Connecticut had the ball first in the first overtime and scored when Hernandez found senior receiver Brandon Young (Morganza, Md.) along the sidelines in the end zone for the score. The Panthers answered right back when Tyler Palko (20-of-25, 234 yards and three touchdowns) found Conredge Collins in the end zone for the tying score.
The contest was a record-setting one for the Huskies as Hernandez tallied the second-most rushing yards by a Connecticut quarterback, surpassed only by the 185 yards Pete Petrillo gained against Boston University in 1968. The 43 attempts by Brown are also the second-most in school history, topped only by the 44 Russ Clarke had against Vermont in 1974.
Freshman Terrence Jeffers (Lawrenceville, Ga.) caught the first touchdown pass of his UConn career early in the second quarter. He finished with four catches for 40 yards.
Stephens finished with 154 yards for Pittsburgh, while linebacker H.B. Blades had a hand in 17 tackles for the Panthers.
The Huskies return to the gridiron next Saturday November 18, when Connecticut travels to play at Syracuse. Kickoff is set for 12:00 p.m. and the game will be televised by Fox-61 and MSG in the Connecticut area.
- UConn is now 2-1 against Pittsburgh
- UConn is now 2-0 against Pittsburgh at Rentchler Field
- UConn is now 13-7 following a loss since October 26, 2002
- UConn is now 18-7 in games at Rentschler Field
- Tonight marked the 17 sellout in Rentschler Field history
- Tonight was the first overtime in Rentschler field history
- UConn remains undefeated in the month of November as a division 1-A team
- UConn overcame a 14 point deficit tied for most points overcome to win in the division 1-A era
- Brian Kersmanc made his first career start at Right Guard
- Tonight marked the first time the Huskies have scored on an opening drive since their first game of the season
- Tonight marked the first time there has been a lead change in a UConn game since Oct. 22, 2005 against Rutgers
- Terence Jeffers had his first career touchdown catch
- Donald Brown II’s third career 100 rushing yard game and the second in a row
- The last UConn freshman with 100 yard rushing games was Terry Caulley who ended the 2004 season with four 100 yard games
- DJ Hernandez had 130 rushing yards broke his career high set on Oct. 7, 2005 against Syracuse
- DJ Hernandez’s 130 rushing yards is second amongst UConn quarterbacks all-time, bested only by Pete Petrillo (vs. Boston University, 1968)
- DJ Hernandez's 66 plays marks the second most plays by a player all-time, bested by Ken Sweitzer vs. New Hampshire in 1981
- DJ Hernandez makes his career high 4 touchdown passes, his previous was 3 touchdown passes was 3 against Louisville Dec. 3, 2005Tonight marks the first time UConn has had two 100 yard rushers (Hernandez & Brown II) since Nov. 7, 1997 against Syracuse
- Tonight’s game marked the first 100 yard rushing game for a quarterback since Ken Sweitzer (120 yards against Maine Oct. 25, 1980)
- Donald Brown II’s touchdown catch was the first touchdown catch of his career
- Donald Brown’s 43 rushing attempts is second all-time among UConn running backs, bested only by Russ Clarke (vs. Vermont, 1974)
- Donald Brown II matched his career high of 2 touchdowns, last time he had 2 touchdowns was against Rutgers on Oct. 29, 2006
- Donald Brown II beat his career high rushing yards with 205 yards to beat his previous record of 199 yards against Rutgers Oct. 10, 2006
University of Connecticut
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On the game:
“The first think I’d like to say is that I’d really like to congratulate all the fans who stayed until the end of the game. I though they made a difference at the end of the fourth quarter and in overtime. Those fans who left really missed a heck of a game. We really appreciate you staying. I think this was one of the most exciting games in UConn history. It was very special for me that they were all part of it. This team works very hard and they knew that what they needed to do was go out there and just work as hard as they can. It wasn’t easy tonight. Pittsburgh is one heck of a football team; they are well coached and very talented. We some injuries during the game, but that allowed for some other players to get some time in the game. Some of our veterans made some big plays for us too. I thought DJ Hernandez played an excellent game. He handled the game very well. He mad a difference with his feet. Defensively, we didn’t have our best game. And then at the end, the reason I went for a two point conversion; I tell this team all the time about controlling their own destiny, I felt that it was time to prove to the kids that I believe in them. I knew that we were either going to win it or lose it right then and there. It was going to be because of something we did not something somebody else did. That’s why I made that decision and some of the ones that I made during the game. I was really trying to make a statement to the players that we as coaches believe in them.”
What kind of statement did DJ Hernandez make during this game?
”He made a tremendous statement. His decision-making and knowing where to go with the ball at the right time were why we scored 46 points. If we can get our passing game going and then have a quarterback who can get something done with their feet is going to be the key to this offense. Other than probably two plays this game I thought he did a very good job.”
Did you already have it in your mind that you were going to go for the two-point conversion play?
”Well, I had it in my mind that we were going to go for two at the end of the game, but one of the things that I said was ‘make sure we have a two-point play. One of the ones that we wanted to run we couldn’t because Terry (Caulley) is the key component to that play. I decided not to at that point in time, but I knew that we were going to need it. I asked the team if they wanted to go for it, and they all said yes. DJ Hernandez called for the play and we ran the play that he asked for because he was so confident about it. He made the play, it was a pass play. He improvised and made something happen regardless.”
What was going through your mind at the last moments of the game?
”Just that we had a fifty-fifty chance of making it; I had confidence that something good would happen. I was hoping that something good would happen, for the kids. We needed to make that two-point play to let those guys know that all the hard work and all the things that they do to go out and represent the university and each other and the state. We needed something good to happen for them.”
RUNNING BACK DONALD
On UConn’s passing and running game.
“We were complimented by both the running game and passing game. The reason why the run was so effective was because D.J. [Hernandez] was doing an excellent job. On throwing the ball the line was giving him protection, and the wide receivers were catching it.”
On quarterback, D.J. Hernandez’s performance.
“D.J. really stepped up his game tonight, he played awesome. What it is is that a lot of people forget D.J. is a really great quarterback. He can do what it takes to win, especially in close games like this.”
On the winning two-point conversion.
“I had no problem with whatever the coach was calling. It was a feed out and I was supposed to clear on it. I guess D.J. saw daylight and took off. I saw him go into the end zone. I can’t even describe the feeling, it was amazing.”
On scoring the team’s first touchdown of the game.
“It was the first touchdown. I was very excited.’”
What makes it easiest for you to make passing plays?
“The more passing you do in practice, even in the game, motivates you. It makes you more comfortable in catching the ball. Most importantly the quarterback has more confidence in you to catch the ball.”
What allowed you to win this game
“We were able to finish from the first quarter all the way to the end. For a few games we have been slow in the beginning not scoring many points. We have to step things up in the beginning in order to have a better game.”
What makes it easiest for you to make passing plays?
“Coach [Randy Edsall] asked me if we wanted to go for two and we all said ‘yeah.’ We went out there and determined to get in. I saw a spot open up and scored.”
On the winning play being D.J.’s own choice.
“I had a play in mind and it was working all night so we went with it and I just ended up scrambling.”
On stumbling on the winning two-point conversion.
“I didn’t even know what happened I thought a guy hit me. I was just so close trying to get in the endzone. It was just a total team effort to win tonight.”
How did you feel when people started leaving?
“I looked up in the stands and asked myself “Why is everyone leaving?” I knew we had it in us, and if we stuck together and kept playing we could get it done. It showed and we did.”
On making the final scoring drive of regulation that led to double overtime win.
“Coach said to take every play into its own accord, and I did that. Coach just kept giving me advice and I took it. I am just happy finally having a game without a turnover.
University of Pittsburgh
Head Coach Dave Wannstedt
“Just plain and simple, the truth of the matter, our guys did prepare well all week. We came out ready to play today. It wasn’t a lack of effort. We couldn’t make a tackle. Give UConn credit. D.J. Hernandez, I don’t know how many third downs that we had him in and had guys covered, but we just couldn’t get him on the ground. Similar to last week, the guys us front are really playing as hard as they could play. The only message I got is that we have to keep working them and getting them better. I wish it was an easy schematic thing, we rushed 3 and he scrambled, we rushed 4 on the last play, we blitzed him, we had guys coming up wide on each end of the field, and he circled them. Give him credit because he played great. He did an unbelievable job. He deserves credit. Our guys tried hanging in there and just at times the tackling was poor. Was it bad tackling or lack of effort? No. Is it speed in some instances? I guess so, but I know it’s not a lack of effort. I wish I could sit here and tell you more from an X and O stand point or something like that, but it really came down to him tucking the ball, scrambling, and making plays.”
You had the ball with 8 minutes left up two touchdowns. In retrospect, with the way your defense was playing, do you feel you took the air out of the ball too quickly?
“No. We were trying to still mix it to some degree. I think in that situation we’re trying to play smart, prevent from a turnover, and make manageable third downs. I think that really made a difference because our offense really improved there today and are third downs were not 3rd and 10. We threw it on first down and tried to come back and balance it with the run.
How much did the 98 yard drive hurt?
“You got to stop them. Come on. Again it came down to a couple of plays that were close and we got guys standing there that can’t make the tackle. There is no easy explanation. We got to get better. “
What do you think about them going for two?
“They got to be pretty confident they could make it. We were thinking that they might run a draw so we brought the blitz up to the inside, but we also had guys coming on the outside to contain him. It was either going to be waggle or draw we thought. We were going to contain him.”
QB Tyler Palko
With the way your defense was playing do you feel like you took the air out of the ball too quickly?
“No, we tried to score. I mean with this mentality we had we wanted to try to run the clock out. You sit back and evaluate we should have done this and should have done that, but we closed games like that before in Syracuse. We didn’t do it today. One thing we can’t do is look back on it, because it doesn’t matter what happens back there. We can’t change it. We have to deal with the present.”
Did you have a discussion with Coach? You guys ran the ball up the middle twice and now you have 3rd and 10.
“Yeah, we ran ideas around with what we should do. We’d like to sit there and say we should have thrown the ball there. If we throw the ball twice and they’re playing man to man coverage, if a receiver slips or we don’t complete the pass, the clock stops. I wish I could give you an answer, but I don’t know. You can look at the negative in both things, we wish we could have made some yards and kept the clock running, but if we throw the ball, I’d like to think that I could complete passes. I can’t guarantee that though. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but if we do that and throw incomplete passes the clock stops there. So at least we had the clock moving. We squandered some opportunities to make first downs and that’s the best I can answer."