EAST HARTFORD – The Central Connecticut State Blue Devils drove just a few minutes down the road for their first game of the 2022 campaign to face off with the UConn Huskies. The 28-3 final score might not lend itself to a tightly contested matchup, but Central was able to hang with the FBS opponent through much of the afternoon. Fatigue and self-inflicted wounds are what led to the eventual demise of the Blue Devils in Week 1
Central’s junior quarterback Romelo Williams noted the opportunities they had to ride momentum at multiple points, but the team lacked the finishing touch needed to keep the game close in the second half.
Each team made sure their punters got some early work in as the sides combined for five punts in the opening quarter. The only drive not to end by way of a punt through the first 15 minutes was brought to a halt by Central’s junior cornerback Isaiah Greene. Greene blitzed the backside of UConn freshman quarterback Zion Turner leading to a strip-sack. The lone turnover of the quarter led nowhere as CCSU punted five plays later.
The Huskies tried their luck at a 54-yard field goal early in the second quarter. The try was blocked by CCSU junior linebacker Luquay Washington and recovered by senior linebacker Chizi Umunakwe. The block allowed the Blue Devils to take over at UConn’s 48 yard-line.
Central kept the momentum from the blocked field goal to break the stalemate and notch the first points of the afternoon. On the ensuing drive the Blue Devils traveled 30 yards in less than two minutes into the red zone. Freshman kicker Cristiano Rosa knocked the 28-yard field goal attempt through to give Central a 3-0 lead.
UConn followed up with the longest drive to that point in the game. The 11-play, 80-yard drive took nearly five and a half minutes off the clock and was capped off by a touchdown from Turner to sophomore tight end Brandon Niemenski from 11 yards out.
The score remained 7-3 heading into the locker room for halftime after Turner manufactured an 11-play two-minute drill to Central’s 17 yard-line. Sophomore CCSU safety Jonathan Cabral-Martin put an end to the threat with an interception in the end zone to close out the first half.
The second half told a different story as the Huskies eventually wore down the Blue Devils. UConn had three drives in the second half – prior to the final kneel down to end the game – each of which ended by way of a touchdown.
Romelo Williams led Central’s charge downfield in the first possession out of halftime but stalled inside the five yard-line. The 71-yard drive was cashed in for nothing after Rosa hit the upright on his 21-yard field goal attempt.
Central never got that close the rest of the way and UConn had their way with the Blue Devils from that point forward.
“We created opportunities and the drives inside the 40 yard-line were the difference in the game,” said CCSU head coach Ryan McCarthy. “I think if we get those seven points the game looks very different; we have the momentum in our favor, we’re up 10-7 and who knows what happens from there.”
The best chance Central had the rest of the way was a muffed punt by UConn around mid-field which the Blue Devils recovered. That effort ended in a four-play turnover on downs for CCSU.
The two longest drives of the afternoon belonged to UConn amid their second half scoring streak. A 14-play, 80-yard drive got the momentum rolling in the third quarter. This was followed by an eight-play, 60-yard drive. And finally, a 14-play, 88-yard drive taking up more than eight minutes was the cherry on top in the Huskies’ first win of 2022.
The box score wasn’t as lopsided as the 28-3 scoreboard by the end of the afternoon. Williams nearly matched Zion Turner through the air but was unable to break through for a touchdown. Williams completed 16-of-30 attempts for 164 yards and an interception. Turner was 14-for-23 for 172 yards and a pick.
Where the major discrepancy came was on the ground. Umunakwe previously said the team had to turn their focus to stopping UConn’s rushing attack. The Devils showed signs of optimism early in the contest, but sophomore Nathan Carter won the war of attrition finishing his day with 123 yards on the ground with a touchdown. The Huskies rushers combined for 274 yards compared to CCSU’s 78.
Next up for Central will be their home opener against Sacred Heart on September 10 at 6 p.m. Sacred Heart finished at the top of the NEC a season ago and will be coming off a 6-0 loss on the road against Lafayette.