MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Connecticut players held hands in unity and bowed their heads while joining West Virginia (No. 23 BCS, No. 22 AP) for a moment of silence in memory of slain Huskies cornerback Jasper Howard on Saturday.
The crowd at Mountaineer Field gave UConn a lengthy ovation as the players took the field. West Virginia coach Bill Stewart gave Connecticut's Randy Edsall a hug and the teams exchanged handshakes before kickoff.
Howard was stabbed to death early last Sunday outside a university-sponsored dance. No one has been charged in his death. The funeral is Monday in his hometown of Miami.
"It's been a tough week, but what this game does is provide some normalcy to the kids," said Scott Edwards, whose son, Matt, is a redshirt freshman defensive back for Connecticut.
"It's been a really terrible week, but it gets them back to what they know and love and it's important for them to be back on the field," he said. "By playing these guys today, they're honoring Jasper Howard. It's important for their healing and our healing as well."
UConn running back Andre Dixon and wide receiver Kashif Moore carried Howard's helmet and No. 6 jersey from the lockerroom before kickoff. Players from both teams wore stickers on their helmets during the game, won by West Virginia 28-24.
"The kids played their hearts out and did what we asked them to do," Edsall said. "They did a great job but came up a little short. I know 'Jazz' is proud of their effort."
A banner signed by West Virginia fans that read "Today we are all Huskies" was displayed in the Connecticut tunnel entrance to Mountaineer Field. Other signs in the crowd read "In memory of Jasper Howard, 1989-2009," and "Husky Forever, JH."
Hundreds of foam, heart-shaped pins and armbands with Howard's number on them were distributed at the main entrance to the stadium.
"It means so much," said West Virginia student Kacy Korczyk, who made the pins. "Just by him being a college student, I know he relates a lot to us. This being their first game, we needed to do something for it."
Nate Blanchette of York, Pa., has attended UConn's road games for five years. He said the way Edsall and the community have handled Howard's death has been "unbelievable."
Blanchette said attending games is a way to honor the team each week, "but today it means more. They're just kids. I'm just trying to support him and not only his family but his other family on the football team."
West Virginia is known for its hostile crowds, but school officials have made it a more family friendly atmosphere in recent years.
Blanchette and Edwards both expressed gratitude toward its supporters.
"The warmth of the Mountaineer fans and what we've felt today, it's been very hospitable," Blanchette said. "People made an effort to come out and say, hello, welcome to Morgantown, good luck and sorry for your loss. It's been impressive."