SAN ANTONIO – For nearly three quarters, it appeared as though UTSA would take down a Power Five opponent for the first time in its brief football history.
Unfortunately for the Roadrunners, Arizona State did just enough to foil their upset bid.
Sun Devils running back Kalen Ballage, who tied an FBS record with eight touchdowns last week, scored only once against UTSA. But it was his 2-yard run with 3:15 left that lifted ASU to a hard-fought 32-28 victory Friday night before a crowd of 29,035 at the Alamodome.
Ballage’s TD gave the Sun Devils their first lead since Zane Gonzalez, who made four field goals, kicked a 54-yarder on the game’s opening possession.
“Proud of the effort that we had,” said quarterback Dalton Sturm, who carried the Roadrunners’ offense. “But I felt like everybody else in the locker room. It hurts. Coming into a game like this, a lot of people are calling us underdogs, but we expected to win. So it wasn’t a surprise to us. We’ve just got to find a way to finish in the fourth quarter.”
UTSA, which led 14-12 at halftime, went ahead 28-12 after Sturm connected with tight end Shaq Williams for a 24-yard TD with 8:20 left. But the Roadrunners gained only 23 yards in their last five possessions after that.
Meanwhile, ASU scored 20 unanswered points to escape with the win.
“Heartbreaking, disappointed,” UTSA coach Frank Wilson said when he was asked about the mood in the locker room. “Pointed out to the guys that we’re not quite there yet. We’re making leaps and bounds by the day. Great teams know how to finish. We’re a work in progress. We’re not a great team yet, but certainly, we’re heading in the right direction.”
UTSA (1-2) fell to 0-8 against Power 5 teams since it kicked off its first season in 2011. The Roadrunners also have lost to Arizona three times, Oklahoma State three times, and Kansas State.
ASU, which rolled up 652 yards of total offense in its wild 68-55 victory over Texas Tech last week, improved to 3-0. The Sun Devils outgained the Roadrunners 469-322 in total offensive yardage but finished with 205 on the ground after rushing for 301 against Tech.
“I think offensively we did some great things and I think defensively we did great things as well,” senior safety Michael Egwuagu said. “I think what Coach means by no moral victories is that there is still room to get better. We did some good things, but by no means should we be complacent.
“By no means should we be complacent with being second. We always want to win. We always want a victory, and we’re going to get better, and I think that’s exactly what it is.”
Ballage, who rushed for 137 yards last week, finished with only 62 on 14 carries Friday night. Demario Richard was the workhorse for the Sun Devils, finishing with 95 yards on 22 carries.
Manny Wilkins completed 15 of 31 passes, with one interception, for 264 yards and two TDs.
“That was certainly a quality opponent we played today,” Wilson said. “One of the leaders in Pac-12, one of the leading scorers in NCAA, and I thought we did a good job of defending them and playing competitively.”
“But we’re not into moral victories by finishing second. So we’re disappointed because we had opportunities where we could have won.”
Sturm was outstanding in his 10th consecutive start since stepping into the breach last year after Blake Bogenschutz sustained a career-ending concussion, finishing with 311 yards of total offense and having a hand in all four UTSA TDs. He completed 19 of 37 passes for 229 yards and three TDs and ran for 82 yards and another score on 15 carries. But Sturm was sacked four times.
"I thought he was outstanding," Wilson said of Sturm. "He played with grit, played with heart like all our guys. They scratch and clawed and tried to claim victory. So it was a valiant effort."
Sturm’s 34-yard TD run on the Roadrunners’ first possession of the third quarter extended their 14-12 halftime lead to 21-12. Sturm scored on a scramble after he dropped back to pass.
“He’s a good quarterback,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. “He hurt us more with his legs. We went into the game and said that the number one play they were going to run was the quarterback draw and the quarterback pull-it-down and scramble. We were very prepared for that, but we were just making some errors early on. Just little things that you can’t do.”
UTSA running backs Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes continued to struggle mightily in the loss, combining for only 11 yards on 15 carries. Held to a career-low 10 yards in eight carries in last week's 23-14 loss to Colorado State, Williams had minus-1 yard rushing in 10 carries Friday night. But Williams contributed well as a receiver, leading the team with five catches for 81 yards.
The Roadrunners finished with 93 yards on the ground after being held to minus-1 yard by Colorado State.
UTSA struck for two touchdowns in a span of 3:45 to take a 14-3 lead after one quarter. The first TD came on the first possession after Gonzalez’s first field goal, with Sturm passing to wide receiver JaBryce Taylor with 5:58 left in the period. Victor Falcon converted the first of his four extra-point kicks.
UTSA was forced to punt on its next possession, but the Roadrunners got the ball back when deep snapper Matt Bayliss recovered a fumble by Ballage, who tried to field the kick near the sideline. Sturm threw an 11-yard TD pass to Rhodes three plays later.
Gonzales converted another 54-yard field-goal attempt to cut UTSA’s lead to 14-6 with 8:02 left in the second quarter. The Sun Devils scored their first TD on the last possession of the half, mounting a 12-play, 91-yard drive that was capped by Wilkins’ 27-yard pass to N’Keal Harry with three seconds remaining. Wilkins’ pass on the two-point conversion fell incomplete, leaving UTSA on top 14-12.
After Sturm’s 34-yard scoring run extended the Roadrunners’ lead to 21-12, Aneas Hendricks recovered a fumble by ASU’s De’ Chavon Hayes at the Sun Devils’ 24 on a punt return. Sturm connected with Rhodes for a TD on the next play.
ASU began its 20-0 run with a 45-yard field goal by Gonzalez with 4:48 left in the third quarter. Down 28-15, the Sun Devils cut the deficit to 10 with Gonzalez’s 26-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth period.
UTSA went three-and-out on its next possession, leaving the door wide open for an ASU offense that finally had gotten untracked. The Sun Devils struck for a TD four plays later when Wilkins threw a 45-yard pass to Frederick Gammage with 11:40 left. Gonzalez’s extra point left the Roadrunners clinging to a 28-25 lead.
ASU began its go-ahead drive at its 42 with 7:05 left after a UTSA punt. Facing a third-and-9, Wilkins connected with Cam Smith for a 34-yard gain that moved the Sun Devils to the UTSA 23. Ballage moved to the quarterback position in the wildcat formation two plays later and ran seven yards on third-and-2 at the Roadrunners’ 15. Still, in the wildcat, he ran for five yards on the next two plays before Wilkins came back on the field.
Wilkins sideline pass to Smith in the end zone fell incomplete, but Henricks was flagged for pass interference. Ballage scored on the next play.
UTSA drove from its 25 to the 46 on its last possession, but Sturm’s desperation pass on fourth-and-23 after he was sacked on consecutive plays fell incomplete.
UTSA opens Conference USA play next Saturday against Old Dominion in Norfolk, Va.
Wilson was asked what he thought the Roadrunners can take away from Friday night’s game.
“That we’re capable,” he said. “That we’re capable of competing with any opponent on our schedule.”
(© 2016 KENS)