UConn 24, Pittsburgh 17

Connecticut quarterback Chandler Whitmer (10) fumbles ball as he is hit Pittsburgh’s Andrew Taglianetti (41) during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., Friday, Nov. 9, 2012. UConn recovered the ball. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

John F. Silver

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Chandler Whitmer got the call in the huddle.

The Huskies’ 24 points lead had narrowed to a touchdown and the Huskies were faced with a third and 7 from their own 28.

The conservative play was to run the ball into the line with 2:20 left in the game and with Pittsburgh with no timeouts, let the defense make a stand.

Paul Pasqualoni didn’t want to do that. He put the ball in Whitmer’s hands and wanted the offense to win the game. Whitmer did just that and the Huskies’ four game losing streak is over.

Whitmer’s 17-yard out to Shakim Phillips, with a defender draped around his ankle, sealed the Huskies’ 24-17 win on Friday night at Rentschler Field. 

It was a gutsy call by the Huskies’ coaching staff, but after a season where they already suffered four losses by seven points or less, they decided to control their own destiny.

“I wanted the offense to win the game,” Pasqualoni said. “We had a pretty good play, we thought the protections would be good, it was a 7-man protection, and (Phillips) wasn’t his first read he was his second read and someone was grabbing him by the ankle and he got the ball off to Phillips and it was a good throw and Shak stayed in bounds.”

For Whitmer, it was redemption after he should have put the game away at 24-10, only to throw a red zone interception when he overthrew Ryan Griffin in the end zone. The Panthers them marched 80 yards down the field with Tino Sunseri finding Mike Shanahan for an 18-yard touchdown pass to close the game to 24-17 with 2:46 left.

The Panthers (4-6, 1-4), with all the momentum, decided to kickoff with two timeouts left. After two straight runs into the line and two timeouts, and facing third and seven at the 28, Pasqualoni decided to stay aggressive. Whitmer knew what was at stake.

“We knew it was a huge play,” Whitmer said. “If we converted on third down the games over. The line did a good job protecting and we were able to make the throw and the catch.”

It was an important play for the Huskies (4-6, 1-4). They played a beautiful first half dominating action as the run game, pass game and return game dominated the Panthers. Whitmer had a 2-yard touchdown pass to Griffin, Lyle McCombs added a 2-yard touchdown and Nick Williams had an 80-yard punt return to go with a Chad Christen field goal for a 24-0 lead. The offense, as it has done all season, stalled in the second half as the Huskies failed to score a point again.

“You knew at halftime Pitt was going to come out and give their absolute best shot,” Pasqualoini said. ” Things don’t go your way in these games every possession. We made the plays in the end that we had to make and win the game, we are happy. “

The running game came alive with McCombs rushing for 119 yards and Griffin had 84 yards o six catches. Whitmer finished 19 of 25 for 213 yards and a touchdown. The Huskies’ defense, which got a stellar game from Sio Moore, held Pitt to 48 yards rushing. Sunseri finished with 302 yards passing.

The Huskies have a bye week as they prepare for a Thanksgiving Day weekend trip to Louisville to take on the undefeated Cardinals.

“It’s a great feeling. we’ve been in four game this year where we lost by 7 points or less,” Pasqualoni said.  “It’s nice to win those games under those circumstances. I told the kids it is great to play our best football in November. We went out tonight and showed what kind of team we can be.”

At least for the first half, and one key drive at the end of the game.