A long memory can be a good thing in sports, as the UTSA football would attest after rallying for a 33-31 victory against South Alabama in its season opener Saturday.
Motivated for nearly 10 months by their painful 30-27 double-overtime loss to the Jaguars in their inaugural season last year, the Roadrunners won the rematch with a 51-yard field goal by sophomore Sean Ianno with 16 seconds left.
"Leading up to the game, I was using the word 'revenge,' but now I'm using the word 'redemption,'" center Nate Leonard said Monday. "We redeemed ourselves. It shows how much we've matured and how hard we've worked. We bounced back from a lot of adversity during the game."
The victory was poetic for Ianno and UTSA, which recorded its first road victory in history and beat a Football Bowl Subdivision team for the first time.
The Roadrunners had a chance to beat South Alabama last year, but Ianno's 26-yard field-goal attempt was blocked on the final play of the fourth quarter.
This time, Ianno nailed a kick that was almost twice as long to give UTSA what is undoubtedly the biggest victory in the program's brief history.
Ianno started career as UTSA as walk-on
So what was going through Ianno's mind just before he converted the longest field goal of his career?
"The biggest thing I was thinking was don't get blocked," he said. "I didn't want a repeat from last year. That's what I worked on so hard in the offseason, getting more height on the ball. The biggest thing I was thinking when I went on the field was just be smooth and don't try to overkick it, because that's when my form changes and I'll miss left to right.
"That was the biggest thing, just try to relax. I was taking big breaths and doing the same things I always do. I knew I had the leg for it, so I just had to focus on what I was doing."
Ianno, who didn't play football until his senior year at Pflugerville High School, made the UTSA roster as a walk-on last season and was awarded a scholarship after spring training this year.
His dramatic kick will be a tough act to follow for the Roadrunners.
"I'm just ready for the 15 minutes of fame to be over and get back to work, so I can go play this game this week," Ianno said Monday. "We still have 11 games left."
UTSA plays Division II Texas A&M-Commerce in its home opener at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Alamodome. Southeast Oklahoma rolled past the Lions 31-6 in their season opener Saturday in Commerce.
Leonard says Roadrunners won't look past A&M-Commerce
UTSA coach Larry Coker is hoping that another tough loss from last year will remind his players of what can happen if they dwell on their dramatic victory over South Alabama too long.
The Roadrunners opened their first season with a 31-3 rout of Northeastern State, but fell to Division III McMurry 24-21 the following week.
Coker said the memory of that loss should motivate his players this week.
"You only play one game a week, and you should be at your best one time a week for three hours," he said. "We have to get better and we know that. We have to have a good week of practice."
Leonard, one of the team's leaders, said the Roadrunners started focusing on A&M-Commerce when they returned to practice Sunday.
"It's all about a mindset," he said. "This is a business. You have to be focused. I've said this before, but we are focused this year because we're a year older and we're a year wiser."
Leonard assured that the Roadrunners won't fall into the same trap that cost them against McMurry last year.
"Fool me once, shame on you," Leonard said. "Fool me twice, shame on me. We're not going to be fooled this year. We're not going to have a lax week. We're just going to stay focused, and we're going to keep grounded as best we can."
Extra points: Ianno and UTSA sophomore safety Triston Wade were named Western Athletic Conference special teams and defensive players of the week. Ianno converted four field goals in the season opener. In addition to the game-winner, he hit kicks of 47, 32 and 21 yards. He also extended his streak of extra-point kicks to 34 with three against South Alabama, and five of his eight kickoffs ended in touchbacks. Wade, from Tyler, had a career-best 11 tackles (six solos, five assists), forced a fumble on a 48-yard kickoff return and intercepted a fourth-and-goal pass in the end zone.