UCONN FOOT­BALL

The News-Times (Sunday) - - Sports - COL­LEGE FOOT­BALL TOP 25 ROUNDUP james.fuller @hearst­medi­act.com; @NHRJimFuller

EAST HART­FORD — From the time that Eli Thomas burst through the doors and sur­prised his UConn foot­ball team­mates at a team din­ner Fri­day night, there was only one way that the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence show­down the fol­low­ing day could end.

The Huskies, buoyed by the pres­ence of a player who only a month ear­lier suf­fered a ma­jor stroke, had ev­ery in­ten­tion of us­ing that emo­tional surge to pick up the team’s first con­fer­ence win of the sea­son. The next step would have been to present the game ball to Thomas which has been the plan ev­ery week since the stroke ended Thomas’ ju­nior sea­son.

Vis­it­ing South­ern Methodist had other ideas as the Mus­tangs never trailed in out­last­ing the Huskies 62-50 in a game fea­tur­ing 10 touch­downs of at least 14 yards to spoil the Hol­ly­wood end­ing the Huskies planned to au­thor.

De­spite im­pres­sive games from se­nior quar­ter­back David Pin­dell and sopho­more run­ning back Kevin Men­sah, the Huskies lost their 14th straight game against Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion com­pe­ti­tion.

“I thought we left some points on the board on the first half, but I liked how we came back in the sec­ond half of­fen­sively and fin­ished with touch­downs,” UConn coach Randy Ed­sall said. “De­fen­sively it is the same thing, we have one guy break­ing down and it is a big play. That has kind of been the story of the year for us. We had missed tack­les and I thought the first half phys­i­cally I thought we got it handed to us de­fen­sively. I thought we at least picked it up a lit­tle more phys­i­cally in the sec­ond half but what we did is we missed as­sign­ments on run­ning plays.”

Touch­down runs of 48 yards by Pin­dell and 19 by Men­sah pulled UConn within eight points with 10:18 to play. SMU (5-5, 4-2 in the AAC) an­swered back with Ke’Mon Free­man’s 3-yard TD run and Kevin Robledo’s 30-yard field goal.

Pin­dell capped a his­toric day by throw­ing a 14-yard touch­down pass to Hergy May­ala with 36 sec­onds left to play.

Pin­dell ran for 181 yards to be­come the first UConn quar­ter­back to run for more than 1,000 in a sea­son. He also threw for 215 yards with all four of his touch­down passes com­ing in the sec­ond half. Pin­dell now has 2,832 yards of to­tal of­fense, the third best to­tal in UConn his­tory be­hind Dan Orlovsky’s marks of 3,444 in 2003 and 3,313 in 2004.

“It is a good thing to do some­thing spe­cial with this pro­gram and be in the record book, but ob­vi­ously the big­gest thing for us is we wanted to win so you can’t be too happy about with­out get­ting a win,” Pin­dell said.

Men­sah fin­ished with 181 rush­ing yards. Aaron McLean led the Huskies with seven re­cep­tions while Tyler Davis and Kyle Buss had scor­ing re­cep­tions of 5 and 15 yards.

SMU’s Ke’Mon Free­man ran for 116 yards with three touch­downs, Xavier Jones had 133 rush­ing yards and two scores while Ben Hicks threw for 276 yards to move SMU within a game of be­ing bowl el­i­gi­ble.

The re­al­ity is that while Thomas won’t ap­pear in the box score, it was still a day for him to re­unite with his team­mates.

“I can’t be­lieve the progress that he has made in such a short pe­riod of time,” Ed­sall said. “He’s still got a long way to go. It shows how much UConn means to him and how much foot­ball and his team­mates mean to him for him to come down here. I wish ev­ery­body had his de­meanor, his work ethic, his pas­sion, his heart be­cause we would prob­a­bly be un­de­feated if we had guys like that.

“He is try­ing to do ev­ery­thing just to be in­volved in school in Jan­uary but to have him here, I know it was in­spir­ing to me and I hope it was in­spir­ing to ev­ery­body else. Hav­ing seen that young man the day after it hap­pened be­ing in the hos­pi­tal, see­ing where he was then to where he is now, it is in­cred­i­ble.”

Pin­dell and Thomas were team­mates at Lack­awanna Col­lege and the two still share a spe­cial bond so it is no won­der why Pin­dell seemed to have an ex­tra jump in his step after see­ing Thomas again.

“He sur­prised us last night at team din­ner, ev­ery­thing looked nor­mal,” Pin­dell said. “He was walk­ing fine, talk­ing and it was good to see a smile on his face again know­ing that he just had a stroke a month ago. Nor­mally a lot of peo­ple don’t come back from strokes after a month but he looks good.

“Tough guy. We al­ways knew he could fight. He has been through a lot, he’s had [three] ACL in­ury and had a stroke. It shows that he is a re­ally tough guy and with­out a doubt I think he will be back into foot­ball by the next se­mes­ter or back in class.”

Stephen Dunn / As­so­ci­ated Press

UConn quar­ter­back David Pin­dell (5) runs the ball in for a touch­down in the first half against SMU on Satur­day.

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