January 3, 2009

Brown leads UConn to bowl win

TORONTO - Donald Brown ran, ran and ran some more.

Then he ran right to the NFL.

Brown rushed for 261 yards and a touchdown to lead UConn a 38-20 win against the Bulls in the International Bowl on Saturday, then announced afterward he would forego his senior season to pursue a professional career.

"I know I told you guys earlier that I was coming back, but that was to eliminate the distractions of my team," Brown said. "We had enough internal distractions going on and they didn't need that one as a burden as well, so I apologize for quote-unquote lying, but I did it to protect my team and they mean the world for me, so I'm willing to put my neck on the line for that."

Widely-believed to be a first- or second-round pick, Brown certainly helped his chances with his performance on Saturday. It was the fourth-highest single-game output by any UConn player in history, and Brown became only the sixth Division I Bowl Subdivision player since 2002 to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season.

"To be honest with you, going into this season I worked my tail off and I made it a point to myself that I want to put myself into a position where I have the option to stay or leave," Brown said. "As time grew closer, and I just kept sleeping on it for nights and nights, I just felt in my heart that it was the best for me.

"It was one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make in my entire life, but with [UConn head coach Randy Edsall] next to me giving me advice along the way, and my parents and my high school coach - it made it a lot easier for me."

Brown rushed for 96 yards in the first quarter, had 207 at halftime and carried the ball just once in the fourth quarter.

He surpassed the 2,000-yard mark with a 75-yard run in the second quarter and scored his touchdown on a 45-yard run to the left in the first quarter.

"It's just a shame that the young man is not going to get the recognition that he so richly deserves," Edsall said, citing Brown's failure to be named a finalist for any of the major postseason college football awards despite his accomplishments. "I think that's the biggest and saddest thing for me, because when you're around this young man as I have been for the last four years and you see what he's put into it - he talked about how hard he worked from last January, but I'm telling you … there's nobody that has worked as hard as him or has taken care of his body the way he does."

Brown overshadowed a nightmare on special teams for the Huskies (8-5), who fumbled the ball six times in the first half, including a mishandled punt and a mishandled kickoff that led directly to touchdowns for the Bulls (8-6).

It was the first-ever bowl appearance for Buffalo, which joined the Football Bowl Subdivision in 1999 and won just 10 games before Turner Gill took over as head coach prior to the 2006 season.

But it was not the first time Buffalo had been invited to a bowl game. The Bulls were selected to participate in the 1958 Tangerine Bowl, but because the team had two black players - running back Willie Evans and defensive end Mike Wilson - and interracial athletic contests were prohibited in Orlando, Buffalo chose not to participate.

Though it came 50 years later, the Bulls certainly earned their International Bowl appearance. Buffalo used a balanced offensive attack to win the Mid-American Conference championship in early December.

But they couldn't muster the same kind of performance against UConn. The Bulls managed a season-low 237 yards of offense against UConn's lockdown defense, including only 29 yards on 13 carries by 1,300-yard rusher James Starks.

And while they remained in the game with over two minutes to play - they had the ball at the UConn 5-yard line - safety Dahna Deleston intercepted a deflected pass and took it 100 yards to put the final stamp on UConn's second-ever bowl win.

"I think it was an incredible way to end my career, and that's all I have to say," the soft-spoken Deleston said.

Tyler Lorenzen finished his UConn career by rushing for two touchdowns and 32 yards and threw just six passes - completing four - for 49 yards and a touchdown to Steve Brouse in the third quarter.

Lorenzen had no problem with attempting so few passes against the Bulls, especially with the way Brown was able to rack up yards against their defense. He had no issue with Brown leaving early for the professional ranks as well.

"You can always go back to school, but you can't always go back and be a star pro athlete," Lorenzen said. "That's what he's going to be, and I'm proud of him, happy for him and definitely think he made the right decision."


Zac Boyer, the editor and publisher of UConnReport.com, covers UConn sports on the Rivals network. He can be reached by e-mail at zacboyer@rivals.com.
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