Adkins steps in for injured Harris, defense holds on in tight finish

Middle+Tennessee+quarterback+Asher+O%27Hara+stares+down+UTSA+safety+Rashad+Wisdom+before+the+snap.+The+%27Runners+intercepted+O%27Hara+twice+on+Friday.+

Ryan Houston-Dial

Middle Tennessee quarterback Asher O’Hara stares down UTSA safety Rashad Wisdom before the snap. The ‘Runners intercepted O’Hara twice on Friday.

Ryder Martin, Assistant Sports Editor

The UTSA Roadrunners are college football’s first 3-0 team this year. Under the Friday night lights of the Alamodome, the ‘Runners managed to hang on in the final moments against Middle Tennessee State University’s Blue Raiders, surviving a two-point conversion attempt by the Blue Raiders for a wild 37-35 victory. Josh Adkins (233 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions) came on late in the first half after Frank Harris exited the game with a knee injury, leading the ‘Runners offense to 23 total points as he persistently attacked the Blue Raiders’ secondary in the passing game. Sincere McCormick totaled 107 yards of offense with two touchdowns and continues to be the stabilizing presence on the offensive side of the ball. Zakhari Franklin made his season debut and made up for lost time, going for six catches, 119 yards and a touchdown, proving himself a dangerous vertical threat. The defensive side of the ball endured a rough third quarter but came up with several huge stops down the stretch in the fourth quarter as the UTSA defensive line applied pressure all night to the Blue Raiders’ quarterback Asher O’Hara. As part of this defensive effort, linebacker Jamal Ligon set a ‘Runners single-game record for tackles with an eye popping 19 on the night.

For their first drive of the game on offense, the ‘Runners attempted to get tricky. After crossing into Blue Raiders territory, Harris pitched the ball to receiver Sheldon Jones, who then attempted a pass down the right side that was picked off. The Blue Raiders took advantage of the turnover and drove down the field before the ‘Runners’ defense stiffened and held them to a field goal to take the early lead at 0-3. The ‘Runners’ offense got off to a slow start in the first quarter, compiling only 56 yards of total offense as Harris and McCormick were denied the big chunk plays they’re accustomed to. Tariq Woolen intercepted O’Hara nearing the end of the first quarter, but the ‘Runners’ offense failed to capitalize on the good field position, turning the ball over on downs.

The ‘Runners’ offense got going in the second quarter as their defense continued to hand the ‘Runners excellent field position. Early in the second quarter, Harris looked to Franklin on back-to-back plays, the first of which drew a pass interference call, before finding him again with a perfect arcing ball into the back-left corner of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown pass. The defense continued to apply pressure throughout the second quarter, forcing another mistake out of O’Hara. Facing a third and 17, O’Hara was pressured and threw up a prayer that was intercepted by ‘Runners safety Donyai Taylor, who returned it all the way down to the Blue Raiders’ 14-yard line. The ‘Runners’ offense made the most of the opportunity, jumping out to a 14-3 lead as McCormick broke multiple tackles on an 11-yard touchdown run just two plays later. The Blue Raiders responded late in the second half with a touchdown drive to pull back within one possession at 14-10.

The ‘Runners attempted to answer before the end of the half when disaster struck. Harris appeared to injure his knee following a scramble for a first down, and Adkins entered the game in relief. The drive ended with a Hunter Duplessis chip shot field goal that sent UTSA into halftime with a 17-10 lead.

Adkins started the second half for the ‘Runners and immediately led them down the field before coming up just short in the red zone. The ‘Runners were forced to settle for another Duplessis field goal, which extended their lead to 20-10. The Blue Raiders responded by driving right down the field and scoring a touchdown. The ‘Runners managed to block the extra point to keep the lead at 20-16. A three-and-out on the next possession would bring a gassed ‘Runners’ defense back onto the field. Despite starting on their own four-yard line, the Blue Raiders sprinted down the field in only three plays, all on the ground, and scored in just over a minute to take the lead at 20-23. The ‘Runners fought back on the next possession. Adkins connected with Franklin on a deep ball to set up a short McCormick touchdown run, retaking the lead at 27-23. The ‘Runners’ defense forced an important three-and-out, and the offense, now fully in rhythm, scored again quickly on a short touchdown pass from Adkins to Cephus to go up 34-23 to end the third quarter.

The Blue Raiders scored at the start of the fourth quarter but missed out on an attempted two-point conversion. The ‘Runners clung to a 34-29 lead. The offense responded on the ensuing drive, going down the field and putting up another three points on the board thanks to a 37-yard Hunter Duplessis field goal. The ‘Runners offense couldn’t get anything going from this point on and relied on the defense to seal the win. They made a stand and forced a turnover on downs deep inside ‘Runners territory to preserve the lead with 6:42 to go. Called upon one more time, the ‘Runners’ defense allowed a potential game-tying touchdown with 1:04 to go; however, O’Hara missed the two-point conversion that would have sent the game to overtime, and the ‘Runners recovered the ensuing onside kick to ice the game and escape with a 37-35 victory.

Moving forward, the Jeff Traylor era is off to a fantastic start with the UTSA football program is showing a level of energy and excitement not seen in years. The health of Harris and the status of his injured knee will be a story that will need to be followed closely in the coming days. However, the performance of Adkins in relief duty should give most ‘Runners fans peace of mind that the offense can still put up points if Harris were to miss any extended time.