UTSA football survives scare, escapes with 10th straight win


Ellyson Ortega/The Paisano

Leroy Watson hauls in a pass for a touchdown as time expires in the third quarter during the game against Southern Mississippi on Saturday afternoon. The touchdown was Watson’s first of the season and came at a crucial time, tieing the game at 17 and handing UTSA momentum heading into the fourth.

Ryder Martin, Sports Editor

The no. 23 UTSA Roadrunners (10-0, 6-0 C-USA) survived a scare against the University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (1-9, 0-6) on Saturday afternoon. Playing in front of a season-high 30,105 roaring fans, the ‘Runners battled through adversity and a shaky performance to emerge with a 27-17 victory to extend their unbeaten season run to 10 in a row. 

The Golden Eagles started the game with the first shot on offense and showcased their game plan for the day. On a team plagued by injuries at the quarterback position, the Golden Eagles decided to not play with one. Standout freshman running back Frank Gore Jr. served as the de-facto quarterback and Southern Mississippi ran the wildcat formation all game long. UTSA handled this tricky offense quite well on the first drive, stuffing Gore Jr. on three designed runs and forcing a three-and-out. The UTSA offense got the ball and got off to a good start, picking up a few first downs and looking as comfortable as they have the past month. Things changed, however, as shortly after crossing midfield, Frank Harris took a shot deep to an open De’Corian Clark, but he under threw the pass and it was intercepted. 

The Golden Eagles slowly began to inch their way down the field before showing off another wrinkle. Gore Jr. took another direct snap and instead of running the ball, dropped back and threw a deep ball to wide receiver Jason Brownlee that brought the Golden Eagles down to the UTSA two-yard line. Things fell apart from there, though, as a false start, two snaps over Gore Jr’s. head and a delay of game pushed the Golden Eagles all the way back to the 26, and forced a long field goal attempt, which was no good. The UTSA offense still couldn’t get in rhythm, however, and the first quarter eventually expired with the game still tied at 0-0. 

After forcing another three and out, UTSA’s offense began to march down the field. Harris uncorked a beautiful deep ball down the left sideline to Zakhari Franklin, who made a fantastic one-handed catch to take it down to the Golden Eagles 10. The ‘Runners weren’t able to finish the drive off in the red zone, though, and Hunter Duplessis kicked a chip shot 23-yard field goal to take the early 3-0 lead. That lead was short-lived, however, as Southern Mississippi’s Camron Harrell had a great kick return to let the Golden Eagles start their drive in the UTSA red zone. Gore Jr. punched it into the end zone four plays later and USM took the lead 3-7.

After a UTSA three and out, Southern Mississippi deliberately marched down the field, gashing the UTSA defense with the designed runs of the wildcat offense. Crucially, UTSA got a stop in the red zone and held them to a field goal. With precious little time remaining in the first half, Harris quickly moved the offense down the field, hitting Franklin on a pass over the middle to cross midfield. On the next play, Harris found Joshua Cephus on a short pass out to the sideline; Cephus proceeded to make two men miss and race into the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown to send the game to halftime tied 10-10. 

With momentum seemingly on their side to start the second half, the UTSA offense came out for their first drive looking to retake the lead, but then disaster struck. On the second play of the drive, Harris forced a pass to the sideline and the route was jumped, as Natrone Brooks picked him off and returned it for a touchdown to give Southern Mississippi the lead 10-17. The game changed on Southern Mississippi’s first drive of the second half when Gore Jr. went down with an injury after taking a hard hit while trying to pick up a first down on third and short. Antavious Willis, a swiss army knife of a utility player, stepped in at quarterback for Southern Mississippi and the offense was never the same. 

UTSA’s offensive struggles continued, though, as Harris suffered uncharacteristic inaccuracy on key third down throws. Midway through the third, Duplessis attempted a 47-yard field goal, but it slid just wide-right and missed. With time winding down in the third quarter, the offense finally put a drive together. Harris marched the team into Golden Eagle territory and hit Leroy Watson for a 24-yard touchdown pass as time expired to end the third quarter tied 17-17. 

In the fourth, the UTSA defense put together a complete effort, constantly applying pressure on Willis and clamping down on the designed quarterback run game. Midway through the fourth, the defense made the biggest play of the game thus far. Willis attempted to run and was hit from behind by Jaylon Haynes, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Jahmal Sam. The UTSA offense drove into the red zone, but couldn’t punch it in and had to settle for another short Duplessis field goal to take a 20-17 lead. On the first play of the ensuing drive, the UTSA defense came up with another turnover. Willis was hit as he attempted to throw by Corey Mayfield Jr. and Clarence Hicks scooped up the loose ball and returned it back to the USM nine.

One play later, McCormick ran it into the end zone to give UTSA a 10-point lead late in the fourth 27-17. With time running out, the Golden Eagles tried to force the ball deep quickly, but Willis’ floater was easily picked off by Antonio Parks and UTSA ran the clock out from there to seal the victory and escape with the 27-17 victory.

Time of possession was one of the biggest stats of the game as the Golden Eagles controlled the ball for 37:14 compared to UTSA holding the ball for just 22:46. With the UTSA offense struggling throughout, they didn’t have much of an opportunity to figure things out. 

UTSA will return to action next week at the Alamodome for a pivotal Conference USA West clash with the UAB Blazers (7-3, 5-1 C-USA). Kickoff is slated for Saturday, Nov. 20, at 2:30 p.m. The game will be available to stream on ESPN+.