UTSA fumbles away perfect season in blowout loss to UNT 23-45


Seva Hester

Corey Mayfield Jr. hits the quarterback from behind to force a fumble to help seal UTSA’s victory over USM earlier this year. Mayfield Jr. has two interceptions and 30 tackles this season for the ‘Runners.

Ryder Martin, Sports Editor

The No. 23 UTSA Roadrunners (11-1, 7-1 C-USA), saw their perfect season come to a crushing end in the final game of the regular season on the road against the University of North Texas Mean Green (6-6, 5-3 C-USA). Coming off of an emotional last second victory over UAB (8-4, 6-2 C-USA) the week prior, the ‘Runners came out of the gates slow and never fully recovered. The Mean Green got out to a big lead and by early in the second half, it was clear the game was over and UTSA’s perfect season was going to come to an end. Playing in wet and sloppy conditions, the ‘Runners looked the part of a team that plays half of its games in the temperature-controlled, precipitation-free Alamodome. They struggled with ball security all game long, fumbling the ball six times, losing three of them. Additionally, the UTSA run defense, which had been very good through the first eight games of the season, continued their troubling recent struggles allowing over 100 yards on the ground for the fourth straight game, this time being run all over for 340 yards. 

The Mean Green got the ball to start the game in the first quarter, and aided by a pass interference call on the first play from scrimmage and some big runs, quickly entered the red zone. The UTSA defense managed to solidify from there and held them to a field goal. On the ensuing kickoff though, UTSA’s problems truly began. Dadrian Taylor chose to run the ball out on the return and while trying to make a move, was stripped of the ball which was recovered by North Texas at the UTSA 26. Gifted a short field, the Mean Green quickly drove down to the goal line and star running back DeAndre Torrey punched it in from two yards out to give North Texas a 0-10 lead. 

Finally given an opportunity to touch the ball, UTSA’s offense showed very little early punch, going three-and-out quickly. A fantastic Lucas Dean punt pinned North Texas on their own three, though, and the UTSA defense forced a three-and-out of their own. Keeping the ball on the ground, UTSA marched inside the red zone, but were kept out of the end zone, settling for a short Hunter Duplessis field goal to draw within a touchdown. 

Another quick stop by the UTSA defense seemed to indicate the tides were shifting, much as they had in previous weeks. UTSA punt returner Sheldon Jones muffed the ensuing punt, gifting North Texas another short field. Just four plays later, they would make the ‘Runners pay with Torrey making a beautiful cut past a defender for his second touchdown of the game from four yards out. Early in the second quarter, UTSA had a long 14-play drive come up short of the end zone, and Duplessis came on for a second chip shot field goal, cutting the lead to 11, 6-17. 

Another three-and-out forced by the UTSA defense signaled that the momentum was changing, and UTSA struck quickly in response. On the second play of the drive, Harris kept it on an option play, made a couple men miss, spun his way out of a tackle and won a foot race to the end zone for a 69-yard highlight reel touchdown run. North Texas responded, though, leaning heavily on backup running back Ikaika Ragsdale. The Mean Green went right down the field and a Ragsdale touchdown extended the lead to 13-24. Nearing halftime and due to receive the ball to start the second half, UTSA pressed for a touchdown on their next drive, but once again could not hold on to the football. Harris dropped a snap, and North Texas jumped on the loose ball as UTSA lost a ball inside their own 30 for the third time in the game. 

On the second play of the drive, Torrey took a handoff in the backfield, eluded the grasp of defensive lineman Jaylon Haynes, made a few more UTSA defenders miss and ran untouched into the end zone for a stupefying 19-yard touchdown, handing North Texas all of the momentum as they headed into halftime up 13-31.

Coming out of halftime, the ‘Runners had seen enough out of Harris on the day. The quarterback struggled with ball security all game and with an eye on the conference championship game on Friday, the coaching staff opted to sit Harris to protect him from any injuries. With Josh Adkins in at quarterback, little changed for the UTSA offense, as they went three-and-out on their first possession. North Texas then embarked on the drive that proved to be the dagger in the game, marching down the field in 13 plays before Ragsdale ran it in for a 10-yard touchdown, extending the lead to 13-38. 

The UTSA offense struggled again on the ensuing drive, as the UTSA offensive line failed to give Adkins the time he needed to throw. Quickly regaining possession, North Texas struck again, this time with third-string running back Ayo Adeyi breaking through the UTSA defense untouched and pulling away for a 42-yard touchdown. Down by 32 and displaying little of the trademark fight that has defined the Jeff Traylor Roadrunners, UTSA went three-and-out again and to start the fourth quarter, allowed North Texas to get all the way down to the one-yard line. The ‘Runners caught a lucky break when North Texas quarterback Austin Aune fumbled the snap and UTSA recovered as that was the only thing preventing North Texas from dropping 50 on the ‘Runners. 

A couple of long Brenden Brady runs on the next drive and some nice throws by Adkins set UTSA with first and goal, but a penalty and then a sack pushed UTSA back and forced them to attempt a 42-yard field goal. Duplessis’ kick was straight and true, and UTSA brought the score to 16-45. The UTSA defense forced another fumble on the next drive deep in UTSA territory as they began to make plays that were in short supply earlier in the game. 

With the game well out of reach, the ‘Runners opted to give true freshman quarterback Eddie Lee Marburger some time under center. The freshman provided a tantalizing glimpse of the future when on the third play from scrimmage Marburger dropped back and delivered an absolute strike to Tre’Von Bradley, hitting him in stride and allowing him to accelerate away from the defense for a 67-yard touchdown. 

The last drive by each team amounted to nothing and as the clock hit zero, UTSA’s perfect season died with the 23-45 defeat. The terrible conditions had an obvious effect on the UTSA offense’s ability to execute, but their poor performance should not be written off as just weather woes. For the first time in Traylor’s tenure, it felt like the team just did not come ready to play, as they perhaps were caught looking ahead to the conference championship game. Harris finished the day completing just 50% of his passes for 59 yards. Running back Sincere McCormick was held to just 60 yards on the ground. Working in terrible kicking conditions, Dean and Duplessis were the lone bright spots on a horrible afternoon for the ‘Runners. Dean averaged 51.3 yards per punt, and Duplessis converted all three of his field goal attempts. Defensively, the ‘Runners were a mess and will need to get things fixed in a hurry with the conference championship game coming up on Friday. 

As for who the ‘Runners will face in that championship game, it will be a familiar face from this season in Bailey Zappe and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (8-4, 7-1 C-USA). The Hilltoppers booked their spot in the championship game with a one-sided demolition of Marshall (7-5, 5-3 C-USA) 53-21. The ‘Runners and Hilltoppers engaged in a memorable shootout earlier this season with UTSA emerging victorious 52-46 after Clarence Hicks made a game-saving diving interception in the red zone. The Hilltoppers have gone on to win seven in a row since that game and come in as the hottest team in Conference USA. 

Kickoff for the Conference USA Championship Game is set for Friday, Dec. 3, at 6 p.m. in the Alamodome. For those unable to attend the game in person, the game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.