East Hartford - It was an eerie microcosm of the entire season for the UConn Huskies: Playing from behind. But hanging in there. Chance to win. Need to make a play. Somebody. Anybody. Then comes the killer mistake. Can't recover.
Stadium slowly empties, leaving a depressing scene at the end Saturday at Rentschler Field.
Cincinnati 34, UConn 17.
Another 5-7 season, no bowl game, lots of empty seats (announced crowd of 33,112) and more questions than answers.
And when it was over, Cincinnati's jubilant players ran to their rooting section with the Big East trophy, part of a four-way tie with Louisville, Syracuse and Rutgers for the title, but the only remaining Big East team that actually won the Big East this season.
The Huskies played without, among others, kicker Chad Christen (hip) and end Trevardo Williams (ankle). By the end, starting quarterback Chandler Whitmer was woozy and on the bench after absorbing a hit in the second half.
Still, the Huskies managed to get within 21-17 on Lyle McCombs' 1-yard run in the third period. They'd almost rallied all the way from an early 14-0 deficit, a play or two away from bowl qualification.
Yet that's when Cincinnati responded with an eight-play, 51-yard drive that resulted in Tony Miliano's 38-yard field goal to make it 24-17.
And then win the game on UConn's ensuing possession.
Johnny McEntee, last week's savior in overtime at Louisville, was again playing in place of Whitmer. He saved his most accurate pass of the day for Cincinnati corner Deven Drane: He threw it right to him. Drane returned it to the UConn 4-yard line, one play before George Winn's touchdown run sealed it.
"He thought it was man coverage and it was not. It was a zone," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said of the interception. "Just one of those split-second decisions a quarterback has to make. Tonight, it was the wrong decision. It's not unique to John. That happens."
The Huskies outgained Cincinnati (373-356), but couldn't recover from three interceptions.
"Look at the giveaway/takeaway ratio," Pasqualoni said. "Probably about minus-14 off the top of my head (for the season). When that's the giveway-takeaway ratio, it's very hard to win close games. That's something certainly we try to address every week and we'll try to address again."
Whitmer finished 16-for-31 for 264 yards a touchdown (74-yarder to Ryan Griffin) and McEntee was 7-for-16 for 73 yards and two interceptions.
McCombs ran for 60 yards on 21 carries.
"We're proud of our guys. A very good senior group that was tremendously loyal to UConn and the football program," Pasqualoni said. "Their leadership allowed us to be here tonight … We wish we could have done a little more. But it doesn't diminish the fact that we're proud of them."
Pasqualoni said the staff would be out recruiting this week.
"We're close," he said. "As we work through this, we're looking to recruit offensive linemen, more skill players, obviously looking to sign a couple of tight ends and a couple of corners. It's the continuation of trying to elevate the talent, skill level and athleticism overall at almost every position."