NEW YORK — First-year coach Bob Diaco said all the right things: rebuilding UConn is a process, youth and immaturity were factors, and Huskies fans had a fine showing at Yankee Stadium Saturday.
But it was hard not to wonder what might have been. The comeback came up one play short.
UConn saw its improbable bid for a tie cut short in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, when Chris Carnegie returned his second interception 99 yards up the left sideline for a touchdown to lift the Army to a 35-21 win, its first at Yankee Stadium since 1960.
The Huskies had pulled to within 28-21 with 2:06 to go, improbably recovered an onside kick, and marched to the 6 before Carnegie picked off Chandler Whitmer at the 1 and ran it all the way back to clinch it.
"He's crushed," first-year UConn coach Bob Diaco said of Whitmer. "I wish he wasn't. That play didn't lose the game for us."
Whitmer had two touchdowns on 19-of-31 passing for 170 yards and added another on the ground for the Huskies (2-7, 1-4 American Athletic Conference), who have lost six of seven.
Quarterback Angel Santiago ran for 97 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries to lead a balanced rushing attack for Army. The Black Knights (3-6) never trailed but almost faced overtime before Carnegie's clutch pick-6.
"I was looking back hoping no one caught me, because I was getting tired," said Carnegie, who said he was going for the interception — not a knockdown — with Army up against the ropes. "It was a great feeling just seeing the stadium erupt."
Joe Walker added two touchdowns on the ground for the Black Knights, who racked up 325 rushing yards to break a three-game losing streak.
Whitmer didn't get hot until late. Facing fourth-and-6 with 12:54 left in the game, UConn stayed alive when he found tight end Sean McQuillan over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown to pull to within 21-14.
Army responded on third-and-goal with 4:22 remaining, when Santiago barely broke the goal line to go up 28-14. UConn cut it to 28-21 with 2:06 left on Whitmer's 1-yard completion to Noel Thomas.
Jamar Summers recovered the onside kick for UConn when Army's A.J. Schurr couldn't secure it. Whitmer then broke loose for 26 yards on the opening play of the drive, and picked up another first down two plays later with 1:20 to go.
It didn't feel like it late, but Army never trailed. The nation's No. 5 rushing offense, Army's crafty triple option had no trouble against UConn's 27th-best rushing defense.
"It means a lot," said Raymond Maples (53 yards) of Army's first win since Oct. 4.
Some timely conversions and lengthy drives were a potent mix for Army, which pushed ahead by two touchdowns on the opening drive of the second half. Following its second fourth-down conversion from inside the 6-yard line, Army went up 21-7 midway through the third on a pitch to Walker, who turned the corner for a 2-yard touchdown.
A week after converting just one of 12 third downs in a 23-6 loss to Air Force, Army kept its opening drive alive with a key 35-yard run off a pitch left by Terry Baggett on third down. The Black Knights converted six of their first seven third downs.
Then, facing fourth-and-2 from the 6, placeholder Schurr picked up a fake field goal and scurried right to keep the drive going. Santiago broke through on a keeper two plays later to cap Army's longest drive of the year, 89 yards on 16 plays, and the Black Knights were up 7-0.
Army's offense got right back to it after Carnegie intercepted a tipped pass from Whitmer — which proved to be only his opening act.
"I'm so, so happy to see our guys make some plays when it counted," Monken said.
The Black Knights then ripped off another 85-yard drive — keyed by a third-and-2 pitch to Trenton Turrentine on the edge — and went ahead 14-0 after Walker ran in from 4 yards out.
"At that point, against a service academy, I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's gonna be tough sledding," Diaco said. "We can't start a football game like that against anyone."
The Black Knights were back in UConn territory with 2:04 left in the first half when Santiago fumbled on a scramble. Junior Joseph recovered, giving the Huskies a crucial chance to get on the board before halftime.
The Huskies didn't waste the opportunity.
Whitmer found Thomas for a 26-yard pass to Army's 32 before Max DeLorenzo, untouched through the middle, broke off a 26-yard run on his first carry.
That brought UConn to the 6 and set up Whitmer's 2-yard sneak with 47 seconds to go and cut Army's lead to 14-7.
The Black Knights, who improved to 15-21-5 at Yankee Stadium, rushed for 192 yards on 34 carries in the opening half. UConn dropped to 5-2 against Army all-time.