EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- For the fourth time in the past five years Towson, a Football Championship Subdivision team, opened the season with an opponent from the Football Bowl Subdivision, but this year the result was a bit different.
For the first time in Towson's eight games against FBS schools, the Tigers won. Towson defeated Connecticut, 33-18, Thursday night before an announced 30,689 at Rentschler Field.
“This is important to us because we have played well against FBS teams in the past but we haven’t been able to get a victory,” Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. “We do have team goals and in order to reach those goals, we had to win tonight. It doesn’t matter who we played. We were committed to winning this game.”
It was a homecoming of sorts for Ambrose, who spent seven season as a UConn assistant before taking over as head coach of his alma mater for the 2009 season. His Tigers finished with a 7-4 record last year and a share of the Colonial Athletic Association title, but they didn't receive an invitation to the FCS playoffs.
Towson running back Terrance West had his 12th career 100-yard rushing game for the Tigers on Thursday and scored his 46th touchdown. He finished with 156 yards and two touchdowns.
“It all starts with our offensive line,” West said. “Those guys do a great job and we can’t do anything without them controlling the line of scrimmage.”
This game won't help appease those who are dissatisfied with UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni. Mark this as the worst loss of the Pasqualoni era, and that's saying a lot after two 5-7 seasons.
UConn quarterback Chandler Whitmer was sacked four times, hurried often and missed some open receivers. Cornerbacks Taylor Mack and Byron Jones played well overall, but both got burned for big Towson gains.
Whitmer hit Shakim Phillips with a 21-yard touchdown pass with 3:29 left and UConn made the two-point conversion to cut it to 26-18, but after UConn stopped Towson, the fumbled punt gave the Tigers the ball back. The Tigers went 30 yards in six plays and West scored the clinching touchdown on fourth down.
“That was a huge play in the game,” Ambrose said. “An eight-point lead is dangerous. UConn has a good team and we knew they wouldn’t give up. But, we’re a pretty good team too.”Towson took a 19-10 lead with 5:09 left in the third quarter when quarterback Peter Athens capped a 13-play, 95-yard drive with a 1-yard run. Towson missed two extra points. Athens completed 13 of 20 passes for 192 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
UConn trailed 13-7 at the half on two Towson TDs from Sterlin Phifer (one rushing, one receiving). The Huskies scored on a Whitmer-to-Shakim Phillips 31-yard touchdown pass and a 22-yard Chad Christen field goal.
It was a dismal first half for the Huskies, who heard loud booing from the sparse crowd, that looked smaller than the announced attendance.
Lyle McCombs rushed for 57 yards in the half. Whitmer completed 9 of 15 for 129 yards, was intercepted once and sacked twice.
UConn's last loss to a non-Division I school was to Middle Tennessee (38-14) on Nov. 17, 2001.
Pasqualoni had better luck in his past two openers. UConn beat Fordham 35-3 in the 2011 opener and UMass 37-0 last season.
The Huskies next play Sept. 14 against former coach Randy Edsall's Maryland team, which opens Saturday against Florida International.
Towson plays next week at Holy Cross and will hold its home opener Sept. 14 against Delaware State.
Sun Staff reports contributed to this article.