Nov. 28, 1998: UConn Passes With Room To Spare

The Hartford Courant

UConn's old standby, an effective offense, came back like a long lost friend Saturday. In a 42-34 victory over Hampton University in the first round of the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs, the Huskies scored in every quarter, including four touchdown passes to four receivers on four different patterns.

Eighth-ranked UConn (10-2) plays at No. 1 Georgia Southern (12-0) in the quarterfinals Saturday. Georgia Southern, which has won four I-AA championships, defeated Colgate 49-28 Saturday. In the first game of the season, UConn defeated Colgate, 45-35.

``We were embarrassed last week,'' offensive guard Dennis Callaghan said of UConn's 28-27 victory over UMass, when the offense scored only one touchdown. UConn averages 36 points.

``That's not what our offense is about,'' Callaghan said. ``We tried to make a statement today.''

``We had offensive concerns after the UMass game,'' coach Skip Holtz said.

``When we had things that were open. We didn't do a very good job. We weren't disciplined like we were today.''

Before 6,193 at Memorial Stadium, the Huskies did not make a turnover and senior quarterback Shane Stafford, blessed with time to ponder and pass, was not sacked. In leading UConn to its first postseason victory in its 100-year history, Stafford completed his last 10 passes, including a 44-yard post for a touchdown to wide receiver John Fitzsimmons with 9 minutes, 12 seconds remaining that broke a 28-28 tie.

Stafford completed 21 of 30 for 294 yards. His four touchdown passes tied a school record.

``He's been around four years, a good guy,'' Hampton coach Joe Taylor said. ``I don't know how much we helped him today. But he was effective.''

Taylor wasn't pleased with the way his ninth-ranked, run-happy Pirates (9-3) played pass defense. ``We didn't anticipate that much scoring,'' he said. ``When you get to this level, it's because you're playing defense. All we can do is put [the secondary] in the right position. Then they have to make plays. We didn't make enough plays. The bottom line is we didn't cover.''

The Pirates had a lot to cover. Stafford spread his 21 completions to eight receivers. Senior Carl Bond snared a 4- yard pass in the second quarter that gave the Huskies a 21-10 lead. It was Bond's 11th touchdown of the season, a school record.

It was a strange play with six UConn players lined up about 10 yards left of the others. Bond was 1-on-1 with a cornerback.

``From that formation, we had three choices,'' Bond said. ``It was just to confuse them and get me 1-on-1.''

Like almost everything else, it worked.

So did using flanker Tory Taylor as a tailback. The Huskies needed his speed to attack Hampton's perimeter. Their defense had allowed only 97.2 yards a game rushing this season. Going up the middle was a dead end. On nine carries to the outside, Taylor netted 43 yards, just enough to get Hampton's secondary taking a step or two away from pass defense. That enabled Stafford to take some shots at long passes in the second half.

Like two to Fitzsimmons. All of Fitzsimmons' four catches (99 yards and one touchdown) came in the second half. His 28-yard catch to the Hampton 1-yard line set up Recolon Jumpp's touchdown dive, givingthe Huskies a 42-28 lead with 4:30 remaining.

On the pass to Fitzsimmons, Stafford faked a handoff and concealed the ball so well that Hampton gang-tackled a pretender. That gave Stafford time to hit Fitzsimmons.

Stafford picked up the sleight of hand from watching films of former Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer.

``I saw how patient he was,'' Stafford said.

When you have time, patience is easy.

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