EAST HARTFORD - Randy Edsall got another chance to coach UConn on Thursday night and Bryant Shirreffs got another chance to quarterback the Huskies.
It worked out for both of them.
Shirreffs came off the bench to lead UConn on three second-half scoring drives and the Huskies came from behind to beat Holy Cross 27-20 as Edsall began his second stint as head coach.
“It was great to be back here, but it's not about me,” Edsall said.
Sophomore running back Nate Hopkins ran for 130 yards and three touchdowns in his UConn debut and receiver Hergy Mayala caught nine balls for 106 yards and a score.
Fifth-year senior Peter Pujals threw for 358 yards and a touchdown for Holy Cross, from the Football Championship Subdivision, which led 20-7 late in the third quarter.
That's when Shirreffs replaced David Pindell, a junior college transfer who could not get the Husky offense going despite throwing for 154 yards.
“I think it helps that I have some experience,” said Shirreffs, a fifth-year senior who lost his starting job late last season. “I know the guys and I've played with most of the guys and I've been in the environment before. But really what it came down to is that I prepared for this game than I did any other game in the past.”
He immediately led UConn on a five-play, 53-yard touchdown drive, capped by Hopkins’ 3-yard run.
The Huskies got the lead back at 21-20 on an 11-yard pass from Shirreffs to Mayala in the front left corner of the end zone to complete a 59-yard fourth-quarter drive. The final score came after defensive back Tre Bell knocked the ball out of the arms of Holy Cross receiver Blaise Bell. UConn drove 47 yards and Hopkins punched the ball in from a yard out.
UConn's defense ended a late Crusaders’ scoring threat, stopping a Pujals run on fourth down at the UConn 15.
Bell caught 10 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown for Holy Cross.
HOLY CROSS: The Crusaders, playing their first game against an FBS opponent since 2002, gave UConn a major scare. They led by 13 points at the half after two UConn fumbles set up two touchdowns. The first turnover, by Pindell at the UConn 32, set up Pujals’ 19-yard touchdown pass to Bell, which gave the Crusaders a 10-7 lead. The second came from freshman Jordan Swann on a kickoff following a 20-yard A.J. Wells field goal. Holy Cross got the ball at the Huskies 21, and scored on a 6-yard touchdown run by Diquan Walker.
“There are no moral victories in football, but we did an awful lot of good things out there tonight,” said Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore.
UCONN: Edsall, rehired in the offseason after a six-year absence, is now 75-70 at UConn. His last game as UConn coach was a 48-20 loss in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl. Shirreffs hasn't started a game since Oct. 29 of last year against East Carolina. Edsall would not say whether he would get the nod over Pindell next week.
OUT: UConn lost two key defensive cogs in the game. Defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi was called for targeting on a hit to Pujals’ head early in the game and will miss the first half of next week's game against South Florida. Senior linebacker Junior Joseph was taken to the locker room with an undisclosed injury in the third quarter and did not return.
HOLY CROSS: The Crusaders play a second consecutive road game to start the season, traveling to Pennsylvania to face Bucknell on Sept. 9
UCONN: It does not get easier for the Huskies, who are back at home on Sept. 9, hosting No. 19 South Florida in the team's first conference game of the season.
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