To Connecticut head coach Paul Pasqualoni, it was another difficult opponent he was facing off against.
But nothing more.
Pasqualoni played Syracuse for the first time since he was fired as head coach of the Orange following the 2004 season. Pasqualoni had coached there for 14 seasons from 1991-2004, and was the second winningest coach in SU history, compiling a 107-59-1 overall record.
“My feelings about Syracuse are just about any relationships with players and coaches I worked with,” Pasqualoni said to reporters following the game. “Everybody I know is essentially out of there.”
When Pasqualoni left Syracuse, Connecticut wasn’t even a Division I program yet. Now, the Huskies have beaten current head coach Doug Marrone in every game played at Rentschler Field.
The Huskies did so in this game by surviving five turnovers in the first half.
Starting quarterback Johnny McEntee threw two interceptions and Connecticut coughed up three fumbles. But Connecticut adjusted in the second half. Aside from not turning the ball over again, the Huskies also turned to wildcat quarterback Scott McCummings.
The freshman led the Huskies rally, rushing for 59 yards and two touchdowns after it trailed 21-14 with 2:42 left in the third quarter.
“It was great to be out there,” McCummings said. “The blocking was great all day today. Everything clicked and I got in the end zone.”
The same could be said of Lyle McCombs, who torched the Orange for a career high 152 yards and a touchdown. The Huskies out-gained Syracuse on the ground 198-90.
Still, it was their defense that came through when they needed it the most.
Linebacker Sio Moore intercepted quarterback Ryan Nassib when he jumped a comeback route with 9:05 left in the game. That allowed Connecticut to take over at the SU 38, and eight plays later, McCummings put UConn up for good.
“I was just reading the release of the wide receiver and following him on the route,” Moore said. “I knew we needed a big play so I just made one for us.”
The win puts the Huskies two wins away from becoming bowl eligible for the fifth straight year. It is an improbable feat considering Connecticut started the season 2-4.
Yet, that is the position Pasqualoni has his team in, at the expense of his former team.
“(Pasqualoni) downplayed it the whole way but we knew what it meant,” Moore said. “When you play your old team like that, we always knew he wanted that victory. It meant a lot for him and for us to get that victory.”Wesley Cheng