UConn and Northeastern have done enough to make it a winner-take-all game in the Liberty Conference's New England Division between the two sets of dogs next week.
Connecticut beat visiting Rhode Island 37-30 in conference action on Saturday, improving to 4-0 in the division. Northeastern is right there with UConn, beating Tufts 39-17 at home. Neither performance was especially dominant, but the Huskies and Maddogs are now in position to play each other next week for the division title.
NU Forwards Finish It Late
Northeastern struggled in the first half, getting in penalty trouble and letting Tufts dictate terms. The game was tied 17-17 at the break. But, as has been the story for the Maddogs this season, NU's forward started to punch holes in the defense in the second half.
Northeastern's backs took advantage, and tries from Ryan Crowe, Lowell Haska, and Liam Taylor put the game away for the Maddogs.
UConn Tested At Home
UConn had even more of a struggle against Rhode Island. The Huskies led 19-13 at halftime thanks to two tries from No. 8 James Courtnet and a try and two conversions from flyhalf Chris Mao. But URI took the lead early in the second half with a converted try. Prop Connor Elliot helped UConn reply by setting up hooker Austin Toback, who burst through a gap for a try under the posts. Mao converted and added two penalties for a 32-20 lead.
Flanker Adam Angelucci's 25-meter gallop for a try seemed to put it away at 37-23, but URI made a game of it.
"We knew this be tough game going in with some good, hard-running URI forwards/backs," UConn coach Bob Merola said. "We managed to tie down the win with a great defensive effort (in the) last 15 minutes of game."
For UConn, a team that didn't win a game three years ago, to be able to play for a division championship and then play in an important postseason game at the Liberty Challenge is a victory in itself.
New Husky Culture
"We’re pretty excited about where we’re going," Merola said. "We've got about 60 players, and we've only got six seniors. We're young and we're developing. Our second side is undefeated. But it took a while to change the culture and to learn how to win. The kids are just more focused, and it shows. We're getting more attention from kids in Connecticut, more recruits."
The new mindset — taking the game more seriously — has been led by Mao and Joe Phillips and has spilled over to the fans. For Merola, a UConn graduate, it's refreshing.
Also In The Liberty
Fordham beat Rutgers 22-14 to finish 3-1 in the I-95 Division, securing second behind 4-0 Iona. Fordham was led by Parker Lynch, who was strong on defense and scored two tries, and Logan McIntrye, who reeled off several long runs. Cortland has already sewn up the Empire with a 5-0 record.
Big Games Still Left
Northeastern and UConn meet next week for the New England title, and then two weeks after those teams are expected to be part of the Liberty Challenge, which will see a series of crossovers among the Liberty teams.
"We were hoping to finish our season playing for something and we are," Merola said. "And with the [Liberty Challenge] we get to play out of our division and see a different style of play. It's the first time we've participated, and it's something we're very excited about."
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