Shabazz I. Dawkins, The Paisano
On Saturday night in a rainy Sun Bowl Arena, the UTSA football team defeated Texas-El Paso, earning its first win of the year to begin conference play 1-0. The 25-6 trouncing of the Miners was a showcase for UTSA’s “hard hat defense,” which forced five turnovers and nearly shutout UTEP in their homecoming game.
“It’s the start of a new season,” UTSA Head Coach Larry Coker said. “We’re 1-0 and away we go.”
After a slippery first half that was postponed by two 30-minute lightning delays, UTSA took over the game with 22 second-half points while holding the Miners to only one touchdown.
Defensive starters Marcus Davenport and Drew Douglas returned to the Roadrunners lineup after spending some time out with injuries. The two disrupted UTEP’s backfield on back-to-back stops to force a safety early in the third quarter. The play sparked a 15-point scoring spree that took the Roadrunners less than three minutes.
Douglas — a linebacker — and free safety Nate Gaines led the defense with nine tackles each.
Gaines caught two highlight-reel interceptions in the second half. The first was a diving grab in the UTEP end zone halfway through the fourth quarter that sealed UTSA’s victory.
“I knew what the tight end was going to run, so I broke on the ball and dove for it,” Gaines said about the catch.
His second interception was a play for the ages; with just two minutes left, Gaines caught a tipped pass at the 22-yard line and sprinted towards the end zone as fellow safety Michael Egwuagu followed. Egwuagu, who was not wearing his mouthpiece, shouted, “Hey, Nate! Pitch it back!” Gaines lateraled the ball to him at the 15-yard line and then set the block to help Egwuagu get in the end zone.
Gaines said it wasn’t the first time that happened, “At practice one day, I got a red zone interception and he got behind me and said ‘lateral it!’”
“We have a lateral drill (that) we work on in practice. We were in a perfect pitch relationship,” Egwuagu said after the game.
The score was actually Egwuagu’s second of the night. His first came on a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
With superb play from defensive tackles Brian Price and Kevin Strong, the defensive line held the Miners to just 59 yards rushing. Strong, a redshirt freshman, recorded three tackles and a batted pass in only his second start.
UTSA’s defense read UTEP’s offense all night. “They did everything we had seen on film,” Gaines said. “We were calling out motions and (Egwuagu) was calling out routes.”
Starting rover safety Mauricio Sanchez was out with an injury. Freshman safeties C.J. Levine and Darryl Godfrey filled in and combined for seven tackles.
“Those guys are stepping up,” Coker said of the 14 freshmen that played Saturday night.
On the offensive side of the ball, starting running back Jarveon Williams had another record game with a program-high 28 carries for 133 yards. He also had 45 yards receiving on five receptions.
He continues to be the offensive engine; Coker calls him the kind of running back “you can hang your hat on.”
Wide receiver Kerry Thomas led receivers with three receptions for 50 yards. Tight end David Morgan had three receptions for 45 yards, including an acrobatic one-handed grab along the UTSA sideline in the third quarter.
Not everything went well for UTSA, however, as quarterback Blake Bogenschutz faced immense pressure throughout the evening and was sacked five times. The offensive line is blocking extremely well during run plays, but is struggling with pass protection.
Center Austin Pratt had several bad snaps, including one that flew over Bogenshutz’ head and resulted in the quarterback taking a hard hit that knocked him out of the game in the fourth quarter. Backup Dalton Sturm filled in and gained 59 yards rushing on three attempts.
Kicker Daniel Portillo also had a rough evening, only making one of his four field goal attempts and missing an extra point. He missed every attempt that was greater than 40 yards.
The Roadrunners will not have to worry about inclement weather as they come back to the Alamodome to play against C-USA-Championship-favorite Louisiana Tech this Saturday. “They’re really good, they’re going to test our metal. There’s a reason they’re picked as the favorites,” Coker said of the upcoming opponent. Watch UTSA take on LA Tech this Saturday at 6:00 p.m. in the Alamodome.