Harris powers UTSA to 52-46 victory


Frank Harris drops back to pass during a game against Lamar earlier this season. Harris had a career dat against WKU, passing for 349 yards, six touchdowns, rushing for 51 yards and catching a 23-yard touchdown pass, a performance that was rewarded by being named the C-USA Offensive Player of the Week. Seva Hester/The Paisano

Julia Maenius, Assistant Sports Editor

The UTSA Roadrunners (6-0, C-USA 2-0) made history Saturday, Oct. 9 in the 52-46 matchup against the Western Kentucky (WKU) Hilltoppers (1-4, C-USA 0-1). Securing their sixth win for the season, the ‘Runners set school history as the best start to a season since the program’s inception in 2011. The offensive front for the ‘Runners broke three school records in the nail-biting contest. De’Corian Clark set a record for three touchdown receptions in a game, Frank Harris threw a record-breaking six touchdown passes and Sincere McCormick set the school all-purpose yards record, eclipsing 3,000 yards. The ‘Runners are now a bowl eligible team after their first win in Bowling Green, Ken.

A throw to wide receiver Joshua Cephus moved the offense to the WKU 30-yard line less than a minute following kickoff. Senior quarterback Harris threw the first of his touchdown passes 43 seconds into the first quarter. Finding Clark’s hands in the end zone, Harris completed the 30 yard pass to put UTSA up 7-0.

The Hilltoppers, whose air-raid offense posed concerns for UTSA, quickly responded by moving into the red zone from a first and 10 at the ‘Runners’ 24. UTSA’s defensive frontheld WKU out of the end zone, forcing the Hilltoppers to kick a field goal to trail by four, 7-3. 

 Short yardage gains from the ‘Runners set the offense on the Hilltoppers’ 31 following a pass to Cephus. Harris handed the ball to McCormick, finding a seam up the middle for a first down to put the ‘Runners on the 22-yard line. Harris dropped back in the pocket and sailed a pass to wide receiver Tykee Ogle-Kellogg for the first touchdown grab of his career to put UTSA ahead 14-3. 

With less than a minute left in the first quarter, WKU quarterback Bailey Zappe moved the Hilltopper offense into the red zone. The ‘Runners posted a defensive pileup, but an easy pop to receiver Jerreth Sterns closed the scoring gap 14-10.

Unable to convert, UTSA brought out All-American punter Lucas Dean for the first touch of the second quarter with a 45-yard kick to pin the Hilltoppers on their own 25. Pushing down the gridiron, WKU gained the advantage off a holding penalty from UTSA to set up on the ‘Runners’ 10. Weaving through the defensive line, WKU running back Adam Cofield snuck into the end zone to put the Hilltoppers ahead 17-14. 

A breakthrough 15-yard run from McCormick set the ‘Runners up to respond to the Hilltoppers with a touchdown of their own. Down on the Hilltoppers’ 23, a pass breakup to Zakhari Franklin left UTSA in a third and long situation. A snap from the line to Harris fueled a slant pass to Cephus. A throw-back screen from the ‘Runners gave Harris the legs to rush the end zone for his third score of the night, 21-17, his first receiving down of his career.

Short yardage gains from Zappe found the WKU offense lining up for a first down at the UTSA 35. A 33 yard pass from deep in the pocket gave a wide open run for Dalvin Smith into the end zone, regaining the lead for the Hilltoppers at 24-21.

The ‘Runners turned around to respond on the following drive. An interception pass from Harris nearly put a stop to the UTSA offensive movement, but the ball was fumbled and recovered for a first and 10. A 25-yard catch from Franklin drove UTSA to the WKU 10 to set up for a scoring opportunity. A touchdown pass to tight end Oscar Cardenas brought the ‘Runners back into the lead. A missed field goal from WKU sent the ‘Runners into halftime ahead 28-24. 

The Hilltoppers opened the second half on the UTSA 25 following a muffed punt return by Sheldon Jones. Unable to convert, WKU was on third down as Zappe threw over the defensive line to Malachi Corley. Corley was able to get his knee down into the end zone for a WKU touchdown for the Hilltoppers to regain the lead once again at 31-28.

On their own 35, the ‘Runners were pinned back on fourth down. Instead of bringing out the special teams unit, the ball was handed off to McCormick who pushed the pile into first down territory. A 44-yard pass to Clark set UTSA in the red zone at the WKU 20. A fourth down pass from Harris found the hands of Clark in the end zone as the ‘Runner took the lead back, 35-31. 

Unable to answer the response, WKU punted the ball for their next possession. McCormick advanced the ball down the field on three consecutive carries to the Hilltoppers’ 23. A facemask penalty from WKU brought it into the red zone at the 10. On the five on fourth and one, Harris took the snap, pumped to his left before finding Cephus in the end zone for a three-yard score to increase the lead 42-31 to end the third.

The fourth quarter brought multiple scramble situations for Harris as he was forced out of the pocket. Holding penalties forced the ‘Runners to take the field goal attempt on fourth down from 35 yards out. Place kicker Hunter Duplessis sent the ball between the goal posts as the ‘Runners added three to their lead, 45-37. 

The air-raid offense from WKU came into effect in the fourth quarter as Zappe secured multiple first downs to set up a Sterns touchdown to close the gap to two points, 45-43. 

Answering the call, a slant pass to Clark put the UTSA offense on their own 43-yard line. Taking to the air, Harris completed a pass to Cephus who was brought down at the WKU 43. Continuing his long-pass game, Harris dropped back into the pocket to hurl a 43-yard touchdown to Clark for a 52-43 lead.

Batting the ball out of the air, the ‘Runners refused a WKU touchdown pass to force the Hilltoppers to kick a field goal to trail 52-46. With no points gained and a ball punted out of bounds from UTSA, the Hilltoppers regained possession for a last chance scoring drive. Quick release passes from Zappe advanced the ball down the field, encroaching on the UTSA five-yard line. A personal foul off of a chop block moved the WKU offense back 15 yards. Zappe was forced out of the pocket to scramble at the UTSA 15, releasing a ball for an intended touchdown pass before UTSA linebacker Clarence Hicks jumped the route of the WKU receiver and snatched the ball out of the air for a diving interception on the three-yard line. With 43 seconds on the clock, the ‘Runners took a knee to end the ball game, writing their names into the program history books.

The ‘Runners will return to the Alamodome for Homecoming Saturday, Oct. 16 to face the Rice University Owls (2-3, C-USA 1-0). Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.