Sunday, Oct 30 at 4:16 PM
In sports, as in life, things have a way of evening out.
Just ask the UTSA Roadrunners.
Walk-on Sean Ianno kicked a 32-yard field goal in overtime Saturday, lifting UTSA to a 17-14 victory against Georgia State before a crowd of 25,977 at the Alamodome.
The game was the Roadrunners’ first at the dome since Oct. 8, when they lost a 30-27 heartbreaker to South Alabama in double overtime. UTSA had a shot at winning the game in regulation, but Ianno’s 26-yard field goal on the last play of regulation was blocked.
This time, Ianno nailed a 39-yarder to tie the game 14-14 with 24 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
“It feels amazing,” said Ianno, a redshirt freshman from Pflugerville. “Last time, it didn’t feel so great.”
Georgia State had the ball first in overtime and lost six yards in three plays before Christian Benvenuto missed a 48-yard field goal, leaving the door wide open for the Roadrunners to complete their rally from a 14-0 deficit.
Running back Evans Okotcha gained nine yards on three consecutive plays, making it fourth-and-one at the Panthers’ 16 and setting the stage for Ianno’s game-winning kick.
Ianno said he felt confident the instant he kicked the ball.
“I don’t really have to look at it,” he said. “I can usually tell just by the way it feels coming off my foot. When I looked up just to be sure, it was the best feeling in the world.”
UTSA snaps three-game losing streak
Georgia State went ahead 14-0 in the second quarter and led 14-3 at halftime, but UTSA scored 17 unanswered points to snap its first three-game losing streak.
UTSA improved to 3-5 with two games left in its inaugural season, while Georgia State dropped to 2-6. The victory was the Roadrunners’ first against a team in the NCAA’s Football Championship Division, formerly Division I-AA.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys today,” UTSA coach Larry Coker said. “It was a great effort and I think you could tell that from the stands. We didn’t have a lot of rhythm on offense in the first half and we didn’t do much scoring.
“What I liked about the guys is for young guys, they fought hard and stayed the course. The defense really stepped up and played a great game.”
The defense was never tougher than when it held Georgia State to a 45-yard field-goal attempt after the Roadrunners failed to convert a fourth-and-five from the UTSA 31 with 3:42 left.
“With their style of play, I was concerned that we wouldn’t get the football back,” Coker said, explaining why he decided to go for the first down. “Honestly, I was very disappointed in the execution of the fourth-down play because we were really out of sync there.”
Quarterback Eric Soza threw to Kenny Harrison on the play, but missed him badly and almost had his pass intercepted by safety Demazio Skelton.
Soza: ‘We were able to persevere’
The Panthers made only three yards in three plays before Benvenuto, who missed four field goals, was wide left on his third attempt with 1:59 remaining.
Soza spoke about the Roadrunners’ final drive in regulation.
“It’s a credit to the whole team – offense, defense and special teams,” he said. “We played pretty well and well enough to win. We were able to persevere. We have to be able to finish games.
That’s what we’ve been saying in the locker room.”
Coker heaped praise on the UTSA defense, which played without sophomore linebacker Steven Kurfehs and safety Mauricio Sanchez, both nursing injuries. Sidelined with a sprained knee. Kurfehs leads the unit in tackles and interceptions. Sanchez missed the game with an injured heel.
With Kurfehs out, redshirt freshman Cody Rogers made his first collegiate start and Triston Wade replaced Sanchez. Linebackers John Walker III and Brandon Terry also saw more playing time than usual.
“The defense did a phenomenal job,” Coker said. “We talked about how when you have somebody out, other people have an opportunity to step up and make plays and some of the guys did that today.
“I think they did a good job and there are some things that they need to improve on, but that will come with game experience, which these guys are just building. Sometimes it is painful because when you learn and don’t win, that hurts.”
Panthers had only 81 yards in second half
UTSA outgained Georgia State 297-255 in total offense, finishing with 108 yards rushing and 189 passing. The Panthers, who had 164 yards rushing and 91 passing, were held to only 81 yards in the second half.
After a scoreless first quarter, Georgia State went ahead 14-0 in the second quarter on a 24-yard run by Donald Russell and 54-yard pass from Kelton Hill to Albert Wilson.
Ianno’s 30-yard field goal with six seconds left in the period cut the deficit to 14-3 at halftime.
That’s the way it stood until UTSA running back Chris Johnson scored on a 9-yard dash over right tackle with 14 minutes remaining in regulation. Then Coker made a strategic decision that paid off handsomely, opting to go for the two-point conversion to cut the Panthers’ lead to a field goal.
Soza rolled out right and hit Brandon Freeman for the two-pointer to leave Georgia State clinging to a 14-11 lead.
Soza completed 17 of 34 passes for 189 yards and was intercepted once. The Roadrunners had a third-and-six at the Georgia State 10 on their opening possession when linebacker Jake Muasau picked off Soza at the 3 and returned the interception 21 yards.
UTSA will have another open date next week before playing McNeese State in Lake Charles, La., on Nov. 12.
“It’s a ‘W’ but we can still get better,” Soza said of Saturday’s victory. “We’re going to go watch the film tomorrow and go out there and get back to work next week.”