UTSA’s season ends in Frisco Bowl loss to San Diego St.


Ellyson Ortega/The Paisano

Charles Wiley celebrates after recording a tackle-for-loss during the game against Southern Mississippi earlier this season. Wiley started all 14 games for the ‘Runners this year and was second on the team in tackles-for-loss with nine.

Ryder Martin, Sports Editor

The UTSA Roadrunners (12-2, 7-1 C-USA) fell short in their bid to secure the first ever bowl win in school history on Tuesday, Dec. 21 in a 24-38 loss to the San Diego State Aztecs (12-2, 7-1 MWC). Down over 20 players due to COVID issues, academics, injury and preparation for the NFL Draft, the ‘Runners went up against a very good Aztecs squad and, despite a valiant effort, had no answer for a balanced Aztecs offensive attack. Despite entering the fourth quarter down by just seven, the UTSA defense could not get the clutch stops they’d delivered all year in close games, and the ‘Runners were unable to catch up.

Up against the second-best run defense in the nation and missing All-American Sincere McCormick, who opted out of the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft, there were major questions entering the game about how much the ‘Runners were going to run the football, and the early signs were good. Senior Brenden Brady, the stalwart backup who has always performed well in limited playing time, was called on to fill that gap and the early returns were great. A 29-yard run by Brady set UTSA up inside the San Diego State red zone. Two plays later Frank Harris found De’Corian Clark in the back corner of the end zone on a fade route for the touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. On the Aztecs’ first drive of the game, the UTSA defense came out strong, forcing a quick three and out. 

UTSA kept the ball moving on their second drive of the game, quickly crossing midfield, but the drive stalled out and at the edge of Hunter Duplessis’ field goal range at the Aztec 36, head coach Jeff Traylor got aggressive and went for it on fourth and seven. Harris’ pass was incomplete and the ‘Runners turned it over on downs. From there, the San Diego State offense got in gear and quickly drove down the field. Aztec quarterback Lucas Johnson ended up finishing off the drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jesse Matthews, who caught the ball on a short crossing route, got a nice block from one of his receivers, turned the corner and dove into the end zone, just getting the ball inside the pylon to tie the score at seven. 

UTSA answered on their next possession, though, benefitting from a couple of Aztec defensive penalties to stay ahead of the chains and drive all the way down to the goal line. The ‘Runners wasted little time once they got down there, as Brady punched it in from two yards out to hand UTSA a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter. The teams traded punts on their next possessions, but the Aztecs tied things up early in the second quarter when Johnson hit Matthews on an 11-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone, 14-14. Perhaps starting to feel some pressure, facing a fourth and one on their next drive from the Aztec 31, Traylor went for it on fourth down again. Just like the previous attempt, this one also came up empty, as the UTSA offensive line was overwhelmed quickly and Brady was stuffed for no gain. 

With time winding down in the half, the Aztecs quickly drove down the field, but after getting inside the UTSA 35, the offense stalled out. Facing a fourth and three, San Diego St. head coach Brady Hoke made the call to go for it; a Johnson pass intended for Matthews fell incomplete and the UTSA defense got a key stop. The offense did them no favors, however, going three and out on the ensuing drive and handing the ball right back to the San Diego St. offense. Stuck on their own 10 with just under two minutes to go, one would think the Aztecs would be content to wind the clock down and receive the ball to start the second half in a tie game, but instead, they got aggressive. Johnson quickly marshaled the Aztec offense down the field, slicing the UTSA secondary to shreds with pinpoint accuracy. The Aztecs drove all the way down to the UTSA one-yard line — and seemed poised to score and go up by seven — but an unnecessary roughness penalty on them moved the ball back to the UTSA 16 and forced San Diego St. to settle for a field goal to go into halftime up 14-17. 

Picking up right where they left off, the Aztecs came out fast in the second half, and in just six plays scored a lightning-quick touchdown on a one-yard run from Greg Bell to go up 14-24. The UTSA offense was in dire need of a quick response and the early returns on the drive were good. Harris connected on a deep shot to receiver Tykee Ogle-Kellogg to push UTSA deep into Aztec territory, but the drive stalled from there and the ‘Runners settled for a 41-yard field goal by Duplessis to draw within seven. 

The UTSA defense then got a stop at midfield on the next possession and it looked as if UTSA was poised to tie the game back up. A deep shot from Harris to Zakhari Franklin connected for 35 and UTSA found itself nearing midfield. Unfortunately for the ‘Runners, they’d blink first in what had largely been an error-free game in the turnover department. Harris attempted to force a ball deep for Clark, but the pass was slightly underthrown and intercepted, bringing the drive to an end and handing the Aztecs all the momentum. On the ensuing San Diego St. drive, the Aztecs had little trouble moving the ball down the field and went up by 14 after Johnson fired an absolute strike to receiver Tyrell Shavers over the middle for a 24-yard touchdown pass. 

The UTSA offense proceeded to put together a solid drive, with Harris connecting with Clark on a deep shot and also picking up a key fourth-down conversion later in the drive with a completion to Franklin. Later, Harris went back to Franklin again for a three-yard touchdown as time expired in the third quarter and UTSA entered the fourth down, 24-31. 

It seemed as though momentum was swinging back to their side, but UTSA saw any hope crumble away due to sloppy execution. The kickoff after the touchdown was shanked out of bounds by Duplessis, something UTSA has battled all season no matter who has handled those duties, which put the ball on the San Diego St. 35 to start the Aztec drive. A roughing the passer penalty and then a personal foul penalty later in the drive handed the Aztecs two first downs for free, something the ‘Runners could ill afford to do against a great offense. The Aztecs made them pay for it, taking advantage of the free yardage, driving down to the goal line and restoring their two-touchdown advantage when Johnson ran it into the end zone on a two-yard option keeper to go up 24-38. 

With just under 10 minutes left, the UTSA offense was going to have to work fast to give themselves a shot at completing a comeback, but unfortunately, the execution was not there. UTSA crossed midfield in expedient fashion, but that was as far as they got. Two straight incompletions set UTSA up for a third and 10 and a blown blocking assignment resulted in Harris being sacked and a fourth and 17. With no other realistic options, Traylor was forced to punt the ball away and San Diego St. regained possession with just over seven minutes left in the game. With that much time left, if UTSA could get a stop, there would be enough time left to mount a comeback if they scored quickly, but alas, no stop was forthcoming. San Diego St. embarked on a soul-crushing 12-play drive, converting third down after third down that ate up all the time remaining on the clock. With one final knee by Johnson, the Aztecs secured the 2021 Frisco Bowl and denied UTSA their first-ever bowl win in program history. 

Offensively, despite playing without McCormick, UTSA remained a factor on the ground. They rushed for 117 yards as a team, and Harris was his usual efficient self, throwing for 271 yards and two touchdowns. It was the mistakes on fourth down and several key penalties in crucial situations that hurt them in this game. Defensively the ‘Runners could not get the stops they needed, especially in the second half. Overall, they were torched for 489 yards of total offense, 333 of which came via the passing game. 

The loss brings an end to what can only be described as the greatest season in UTSA history. It cannot be overstated how meteoric a rise it has been for a UTSA football program that has been playing at the FBS level for just 10 years. While the bowl loss is sure to leave a bad taste in peoples’ mouths heading into the offseason, if one steps back and looks at the bigger picture, this season has had so many firsts. The ‘Runners delivered a 12-win season, an 11-game winning streak, the Conference USA championship, Traylor’s contract extension and the announced move to the American Athletic Conference. Traylor and UTSA Athletics have done so much to build the program in the short time he’s been here and while the mood following the game was one of disappointment and frustration, it’s clear that the team views this season as just the beginning of what UTSA can accomplish in the future. 

UTSA football will return to action Saturday, Sept. 3, in the Alamodome when they take on the University of Houston Cougars in the 2022 season opener.