UTSA football grinds out 24-17 victory over UNLV, improve to 5-0 to start season


De’Corian Clark fights through multiple UNLV defenders to gain extra yardage. in the absence of standout receiver Zakhari Franklin, Clark stepped up and had a career day, catching seven passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. Seva Hester/The Paisano

Ryder Martin, Sports Editor

The UTSA Roadrunners (5-0, 1-0 C-USA) returned to the Alamodome last weekend to take on the UNLV Rebels (0-5). Despite the differences in record, the Rebels pushed the ‘Runners to the limit and kept things tight throughout the game. On a day where Sincere McCormick was limited to just 89 yards on 29 carries, it was Frank Harris who was called on to carry the load for the offense. Harris completed 80 percent of his passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns to lead the ‘Runners to only their second 5-0 start in school history. 

After both teams punted on their first possession, the UTSA offense started their second drive of the game on their own eight-yard line. The offense drove all the way down the field in 14 plays, and Harris finished the drive off with a nine-yard passing touchdown on a slant route to Joshua Cephus. That early lead would not last very long, however, as on the first play of the ensuing drive a play action pass led to a blown coverage by the UTSA secondary and freshman UNLV QB Cameron Friel had the easiest 63-yard touchdown pass of his career to tie the game at seven. The ensuing UTSA drive came up empty, and UNLV took the lead on a field goal after they were stopped in the red zone by a Dadrian Taylor sack on third down. Three quick passes by Harris drove UTSA into the red zone, but they were kept out of the end zone and settled for a chip shot Hunter Duplessis field goal to tie the game. 

Searching for some momentum late in the second quarter, the UTSA defense came through with a big play to give the offense one more chance before the end of the half. Facing pressure, Friel tried to force a pass on third and long. Tariq Woolen stepped in front of the receiver to intercept the pass and set UTSA up at the UNLV 45. What followed was a long drawn-out drive that eventually ended with a one-yard McCormick touchdown with under a minute to go in the first half to take a 17-10 lead. 

To start the second half, the UTSA defense came out firing, forcing a three and out on UNLV’s first possession after sacking Friel twice. Following a UTSA three and out, UNLV drove down into the UTSA red zone, but Trevor Harmanson made a tremendous play on fourth and inches, holding a UNLV receiver just short of the first down marker with one hand to buy time for the rest of his teammates to come in and stop UNLV, turning it over on downs. As the UTSA offense continued to struggle to start the second half, the defense came up with another big play as Friel had a pass on third down tipped into the air and safety Jahmal Sam executed a perfect tip drill to easily corral the floating ball for the interception. This time the UTSA offense capitalized on the good field position, and Harris found De’Corian Clark down the left sideline for a 31-yard touchdown pass to take a 14-point lead late in the third quarter. It appeared the game was all but out of reach when the UTSA defense came right back out and forced another turnover. This time UTSA sent a blitz and got to Friel, with Dru Prox stripping him of the ball and Lorezno Dantzler falling on the loose ball, his third fumble recovery of the season which leads the entire nation. However, the offense was unable to capitalize on this excellent field position when Duplessis missed a 33-yard field goal just wide to the left to keep the lead at 24-10. 

Early in the fourth quarter, UNLV took over following the missed kick and converted numerous crucial third downs as they drove down the field. Eventually facing fourth and one at the UTSA nine, the UTSA defense applied excellent pressure and got UNLV backup quarterback Justin Rogers scrambling, but a collision between two UTSA defenders in the secondary left a wide-open receiver in the endzone that Rogers found for a touchdown. With the ‘Runners clinging to a seven-point lead, a big kickoff return by Taylor to the UTSA 45 appeared to set up UTSA to ice the game away. After running the clock all the way down to under two minutes left in the game UTSA sent out Duplessis for a 45-yard field goal to extend the lead to two possessions. Surprisingly, Duplessis missed the kick wide to the right and left the door open for UNLV to have one final game-tying drive. UNLV quickly drove across midfield and got to the UTSA 36, but from there the defense dug in their heels. Three straight incompletions by Friel set up a fourth and ten for the ballgame and the UTSA defense responded. The UTSA defensive line got quick pressure on Friel and Dequarius Henry wrapped him up and dropped him for the sack and the turnover on downs, handing UTSA the win. 

It was a tough, grind it out sort of game for UTSA as numerous injuries to the offensive line limited their usually potent rushing attack. Still, a solid day for Harris and another strong defensive effort led UTSA to yet another win. UTSA will head onto the road this week to take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (1-3, 0-0 C-USA) at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9. The game will be available to stream on Stadium.