Sunday, November 1, 2009

12 Hours Later (Plus)....Another Chapter of Halloween Magic For Rutgers

The final- Rutgers 28, UCONN 24

First a little bit of back story prior to getting on with my take on this dramatic game, with a script out of a Hollywood writer's imagination, and what it could mean for both Rutgers and for UCONN as the 2009 season moves on.

Halloween Magic, Chapter One

It was October 31, 1992, the old 22,000 seat Rutgers Stadium, Rutgers versus Virginia Tech, then a reeling team with a losing record, and coached by a young alum named Frank Beamer who was then under fire. Rutgers was in position to finish with a winning season, and a possible bowl bid in the then two year old Big East Football Conference.

Va Tech led early and often, some of the time by two touchdowns, but usually in the vicinity of 10-12 points. But after building an early two score lead, everytime Tech scored Rutgers matched it. RU qb Bryan Fortay threw three touchdown passes and sub Ray Lucas one. In the waning moments of the fourth quarter, with the score 49-44 Tech leading, some of the RU fans left...but then returned to their seats. In those days of the old little horseshoe stadium it was OK for fans to leave, and return at will.

Something was in the air- we all could sense it. After a critical catch in Tech territory by Mario Henry, and the clock ticking down to zero, qb Fortay looked for wide receiver Chris Brantley in the right corner of the North end zone....and found him. The clock showed 00.00....Rutgers took its first lead of the game at 50-49, with no time on the clock. Fans stormed the was a practice session for "Pandemonium in Piscataway"- we just had to wait 14 years for the grown up version to materialize. There was no attempt to kick the extra point because there were 10,000 or more people on the field.

Halloween Magic, Chapter Two

I had gone to East Hartford for Rutgers-UCONN for the last three trips up there. I was offered a ticket and a seat on the bus on Thursday, but decided to stay home and watch it on TV this time around. I actually had some work to attend to, so I passed.

Rutgers had a 21-10 lead going into the fourth quarter. I sat on the edge of my chair as the game wound down. Then UCONN's Zach Frazier hit Marcus Easley for a 32 yard TD strike. It was 21-17 Rutgers.

A long UCONN drive found them on the Rutgers 2 yard line- Jordan Todman ran it in with 38 seconds to go for a 24-21 UCONN win. It looked like the Huskies had done it; they had won one for #6, their cornerback, Jasper Howard, who had been stabbed to death at a university event two weeks before. The UCONN faithful, 37,000 plus strong, were going crazy.

And then Rutgers, which had nearly taken defeat from the jaws of victory, got it right. Devin McCourtey took the UCONN kickoff back to the Rutgers 19 yard line. It was 1st and 10, Rutgers. There were 22 seconds left in the game. True freshman quarterback Tom Savage took the snap, hit diminutive speedster Tim Brown on a quick route- and Number Two took the ball 81 yards for a touchdown.

It was 28-24 Rutgers. Uconn was stunned. The house was silent, except for a patch of scarlet clad visitors near one end zone.

At the point where UCONN scored with 38 seconds left our letter carrier, Carol, rang the doorbell- she had a parcel for us.

"Are watching the game?" she asked.

"Yeah", I answered dejectedly, thinking all was lost. "These guys are drivin' me nuts".

I went back to my seat in time to see Brown take it to The House on my reliable flat screen. The doorbell rang again.

I was Carol The Letter Carrier...she was jumping up and down like an ecstatic little kid on Christmas Day....and I threw my arms in the air to signal "TOUCHDOWN" in my TV room!

And the only thing missing was Freddy Mercury and Queen singing "Its a Kind of Magic" in the background.

The Game. (To see a replay of the game click Rutgers-UCONN Replay). You can't talk about this game without mentioning the context in which it was played. Two weeks ago UCONN starting cornerback Jasper Howard was murdered, stabbed to death outside of a dance held on campus. The UCONN community mourned him for the next week, the football team traveled to Morgantown, WV to play West Virginia, where the memory of Jasper Howard was honored by both teams and the West Virginia fans.

The Huskies then lost a heartbreaker to the Mountaineers on a long run by WVU's Noel Devine in the last two minutes. The final score was WVU 28, UCONN 24.

UCONN dropped to 4-3. This season lost a 12-10 game to North Carolina, a conference hame to Pitt on a last second field goal, and the four point contest to West Virginia.

On Saturday, October 31- Halloween- UCONN played their first home game since the death of "Jazz" Howard. Thousands had blue and white placards with the #6 on it. There were signs all over Rentschler Field for Jazz Howard. This game was to be for Jazz, from his Husky teammates.

And across the way on the Rutgers sidelines was one of Jazz Howard's best friends, the lightning fast Tim Brown. Brown and Howard were both from the same Liberty City neighborhood in Miami- Brown debated going to Miami last Monday to attend Jazz's funeral, but decided to stay in New Jersey. His family members attended in his stead.

Tim Brown wore "RIP" and "Jazz" on his eyeblack strips- he and all the Rutgers team wore a #6 helmet sticker this Halloween day. The stadium was motionless for a moment of silence dedicated to Howard- and then it was time to play ball.

Rutgers Devin McCourty took the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown- the second week in a row an opponent had done that to UCONN. After a long UCONN return to RU territory and a 37 yard Dave Teggart field goal made the score 7-3 Rutgers, there was no more scoring until late in the second quarter. At 6:03 , Rutgers QB Tom Savage hit Tim Brown for a 37 yard TD; Rutgers led, 14-3. Then on the Rutgers kickoff UCONN's Robbie Frey took it 100 yards for a UCONN TD; 14-10 RU. At 2:16 in the second quarter Savage found fellow true freshman (and Connecticut native) Mark Harrison in the end zone for a 20 yard TD for Rutgers; 21-10 Rutgers.

After a scoreless third quarter, UCONN went on the march. UCONN qb Zach Frazer, subbing for the injured Cody Endress (he's is now scheduled to have season ending surgery), had trouble early on throwing three INT's. But in the third quarter his 32 yard pass to Marcus Easley capped an 8 play. 82 yard drive with a TD; RU 21- UCONN 17. There was 10:19 left in the game.

After trading punts on respective series UCONN went on a dramatic 15 play, 87 yard march that took 3:11 seconds. Todman took it into the end zone for the first lead of the day for UCONN, 24-21 with :38 on the clock. Rutgers was 38 seconds from going 0-3 in the Big East.

Then after the kickoff and Rutgers taking over with less tan half a minute in the game, Brown caught the pass from Savage. What happened next is described by Tim Brown, from the New York Daily News.

"I almost felt like his angel wings reached down and flew me to the end zone for a touchdown," Brown said after the game. "I already miss him. We worked out all summer, looking forward to this game. He covered me all game last year and we were talking about the 31st. We were both so competitive. When I looked back, I was wishing it had been him I had beat, just so I could have told him, 'I got you this time."

It was miraculous, it was bittersweet, it was triumphant, it was could apply a thousand adjectives to this game, and they would all be accurate, depending on your perspective. In a game that looked like a win for UCONN, the sense of loss must seem monumental. For Rutgers, this turn of events might be a point where a so-so season turns into something memorable and special.

For Tim Brown, the young guy mourning his fallen friend, there must have been a rollercoaster of unchecked emotions. With this play Tim Brown has emerged from the large shadows cast by former teammates Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood to become a folk hero on The Banks.

Years from now people will ask....where were you when Tim Brown made "The Catch"?

Bottom Line- Where Do We Go From Here? For Rutgers this game might be the turning point for the season. After losing their first two Big East games, and then beating up on inferior opposition, RU took to the road and beat a quality opponent and beat them in their building. The schedule reads two games on the road at Syracuse and Louisville, in both of which the Knights should be favored. And the two home games are with South Florida and West Virginia, the WVU contest closes the season, the USF game is a national Thursday night game a week from this Thursday. USF is young, talented, physical, and erratic- will the team that beat WVU on Friday show up, or will it be the one who was smacked around by Pitt the previous week? And West Virginia, with all that talent, looks mortal. They have talent on offense with Jock Sanders, Noel Devine, and qb Jarrett Brown- but they turn the ball over too much. Rutgers leads the Big East in turnover margin, and is second in college football- they also have six non-offensive touchdowns on the year. Add this to the mix- WVU really isn't a very good defensive team.

Rutgers has a chance to match 2006's ten win season; I'm not saying they will, but they still have a chance to finish ranked and with a decent bowl game. A week from this Thursday America will get a chance to see two emerging offensive stars in college football, two freshman quarterbacks; Rutgers' Tom Savage and USF's BJ Daniels. Its going to be showcase of two quarterbacks- and two teams- that just might dominate the Big East for the near future. I expect a packed and crazy house in Piscataway....I think we have an event on our hands.

As for UCONN...the question will be, can they regroup after this? They've lost a loved member of their team, senselessly murdered. They've lost four games in the last two minutes or less by a combined 13 points. And now their starting quarterback has been scheduled for season ending surgery. Next up for the Huskies, the undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats, then a two week break, then a national TV game with the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in South Bend. They close the season with Syracuse at home, and USF at home.

They will be favored against Syracuse, only.

Sometimes one play can turn a season, for the good, or for the bad...or sometimes for both. It remains to be seen if Tim Brown's 81 yard dash to the end zone defines a seasons for two college football programs.

Other Stuff This is the point in which I usually talk about the rest of the Big East, and other games in college football. But in all honesty, its been a lot of Rutgers, and a lot of World Series for me the past couple of days, so it won't be fair to comment on games I haven't seen.

The Yankees took a 2-1 lead in the Series yesterday with some timely hitting from Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher, and dominating pitching from Andy Pettitte, and relievers Joba Chamberlain, Damaso Marte, and Mariano Rivera for an 8-5 win.

It continues tonight, just minutes away with Joe Blanton staring for the Phils, and CC Sabathia for the Yankees.

Time to watch baseball.

See you later.

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