EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Houston coach Dana Holgorsen says he had never given out a game ball before handing one to defensive back Grant Stuard in the locker room on Saturday.
Stuard had 15 tackles, including a touchdown-saving effort to stop a 58-yard run by UConn’s Kevin Mensah in the Cougars’ 24-17 win over the Huskies.
Stuard caught Mensah on Houston’s 4-yard line, leading to goal-line stand that preserved a 17-10 lead. Houston (3-4, 1-2 American) had just taken that lead on a 58-yard-touchdown pass from Holgorsen’s son Logan to Jeremy Singleton.
“You’ve gotta make them snap it again,” said Stuard. “If it’s one yard, a half a yard, they’ve still got to get that yard. They’ve still got to get that touchdown. And our defense prides itself on playing every single play, regardless of the situation.”
The younger Holgorsen threw for 123 yards and had just 37 yards passing before finding Singleton wide open down the left sideline.
“I thought he did fine,” Dana Holgorsen said of his son, a walk-on freshman making his first start. “He’s not fazed on the sidelines. It’s not too big for him. He’s not wide eyed. He’s been there for 19 years now. He’s used to me yelling at him.”
Houston (3-4, 1-2) stretched its lead with a late 13-play touchdown drive that ended with a 2-yard run from Bryson Smith.
UConn freshman Jack Zergiotis, who threw for 270 yards, hit Art Tompkins for a 7-yard touchdown with 1:40 left, but the Huskies failed to recover the onside kick.
Mensah rushed for 93 yards for UConn (1-6, 0-4), which suffered its sixth straight loss, 22nd straight to a Bowl Subdivision team and 15th straight in the American Athletic Conference.
The Huskies held the ball for 36 minutes and outgained Houston 438-284, but managed just one other touchdown. That came in the second quarter when Zergiotis hit Matt Drayton over the middle for a 17-yard score that put the Huskies up 7-3, giving them their first lead since September.
“The moral of the story is, when you get opportunities you’ve gotta take advantage of those opportunities and we just didn’t do that today,” said UConn coach Randy Edsall.
The Cougars had a 10-7 lead at halftime after an interception by linebacker Donavan Mutin, which set up a 12-yard touchdown run from Kyle Porter. Porter finished with 60 yards on 15 carries.
Logan Holgorsen got the start over Clayton Tune, who suffered a hamstring injury that limited his practice during the week. D’Eriq King, who was touted as a Heisman candidate before the season, was asked to redshirt after a 1-3 start to the season.
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Dana Holgorsen was caught by a television microphone on the sidelines in the second quarter giving a profane-laced comment about his players’ ability to be coached.
“I say things all the time I don’t mean,” Holgorsen said. “In the heat of the battle, things on the sidelines, hot mics or cameras getting caught. My guys know good and well what I think of them, how hard I’d coach them and how much I think of them and how much I appreciate everything that they do.”
Houston was effective with Smith running the Wildcat. He had nine rushes for 29 yards and completed two his three throws for 55 yards. Most of that came when he tossed a pass to Singleton that went for 45 yards and set up Houston’s first score, a 42-yard field goal.
Houston needs to win three more games in its final five games to become bowl eligible for the seventh straight season.
UConn’s last win against a Bowl Subdivision team came against Tulsa on Oct. 21, 2017, that also was their last win in the American Conference.
Houston: The Cougars have a short week. They return home to face No. 19 SMU on Thursday night.
UConn: The Huskies travel to Massachusetts for what has become known as the U-Game against UMass.