SAN ANTONIO – There was a time when all UTSA had to show for its fledgling football program was a helmet and a football.
Larry Coker, hired as the Roadrunners’ first coach in March 2009, later bought a jersey to use as a prop when he talked to civic groups and alumni gatherings about UTSA football in those early days.
All that seemed so long ago Saturday when the Roadrunners became bowl eligible for the first time with a 33-14 victory over Charlotte before a crowd of 23,807 at the Alamodome.
The historic victory came in the finale of UTSA’s sixth season and its first under Frank Wilson, who became the Roadrunners’ second head coach in mid-January after Coker was fired.
Only two other FBS schools, South Alabama and Georgia State, have played in a bowl game as early as their sixth season.
UTSA, which finished the regular season 6-6 overall and 5-3 in Conference USA, must now wait until next Sunday for its bowl invitation.
“Today all work was vindicated,” Wilson said. “A lot of blood, sweat and tears for many years to get us to this point. It’s something that is special for our team.”
Wilson, 43, was an assistant coach at LSU for six seasons before landing his first college head-coaching job. He lingered on the field after Saturday’s game, savoring the moment with his players, family, friends and fans.
Fans were allowed on the field after the game and massed near the south zone as confetti rained down on them.
“We made a rally cry on a Thanksgiving weekend and asked them to come out and support us,” Wilson said, referring to the fans. “We told them we needed their support. We had 20-something thousand, but you would have sworn it was 60 thousand because they were loud.
“They were prideful and they represented us extremely well. Early in the week, we talked about it, Lynn Hickey (UTSA athletic director) and I, our administration, of sharing that moment with our fans, with our families, because we all have a stake in it. We wanted them to be able to partake in it and not just see it from the stands.”
Wilson paused briefly before adding, “What a beautiful moment it was.”
UTSA officials would prefer to see the Roadrunners play in a bowl game within driving distance of San Antonio, making it less expensive for more fans to make the trip. Three bowls that would fit the bill are the Heart of Dallas Bowl, New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque) and the New Orleans Bowl. The Heart of Dallas Bowl and New Mexico Bowl are scheduled for Dec. 17 and the New Orleans Bowl is on Dec. 27.
“I’m just very, very proud,” Hickey said. “Number one, what Coach Wilson and his staff have done has been outstanding. I truly think the story of these kids coming together, and each one has such an individual great story, and they pulled this off as a team.
“Our staff, how hard we have worked. We don’t have the numbers sometimes to run a big program like this. Everybody has really come together. So when we talk about this being a family, it is truly starting to happen. This is just the beginning, like coach said. We’re going to continue to grow.”
Senior safety Michael Egwuagu and running back Jarveon Williams talked about the thrill of earning a bowl bid.
“I don’t even have a word to describe,” said Williams, who rushed for 48 yards. “It’s been a long time coming. When we first got here, we didn’t have much. Even the good season we did have, we couldn’t go to a bowl yet. Just to go through adversity and to come back out on top, making something out of a bad situation, really proud of this team.”
UTSA finished 7-5 in 2013, but wasn’t eligible for a bowl because it was in the final year of reclassifying for the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Roadrunners went 4-8 in 2014 and 3-9 last season.
“To go out as a senior and be able to get the opportunity to play for a bowl game, it’s like none other,” Egwuagu said. “I think it’s the perfect ending to a senior career, campaign.”
UTSA got off to a rousing start in its win over Charlotte, scoring on its third play from scrimmage when Dalton Sturm hit Kerry Thomas Jr. for a 73-yard strike. Thomas finished with five catches for a program-record 145 yards.
“I’m not sure why I was so open today,” Thomas said, chuckling. “I just ran the routes that were called. But credit to those guys up front, man. Without those guys blocking, letting him (UTSA quarterback) sit in the pocket, go through his reads, make his progressions. I just tried to make a play on the ball.”
Not to be outdone, Charlotte scored on the third play of its first possession to tie the game 7-7 with only 2:02 elapsed on the game clock. The 49ers TD came on a 76-yard pass from Hasaan Klugh to Austin Duke.
Victor Falcon kicked a 21-yard field goal with 3:20 left in the first quarter, putting the Roadrunners ahead to stay. UTSA extended the lead to 17-7 on a 13-yard pass from Sturm to Brady Jones with 3:08 left in the half.
Falcon kicked a 26-yard field goal for the only score of the third quarter, stretching the Roadrunners’ lead to 20-7. But the 49ers kept the game interesting for a while longer when Juwan Foggie scored on a 3-yard fumble return after punter Yannis Routsas bobbled the snap. The TD came on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Jared Johnson replaced Sturm at the start of UTSA’s second possession of the fourth period, and coolly directed the Roadrunners on a seven-play, 76-yard drive that was capped by his 20-yard TD pass to Marquez McNair with 8:19 left.
Jalen Rhodes scored the Roadrunners’ last TD on a 2-yard run that came one play after Johnson completed a 35-yard pass to wide receiver JaBryce Taylor.
UTSA outgained Charlotte 520-237 in total offense, gaining 106 yards on the ground and 414 passing. Sturm completed 18 of 33 passes for 286 yards and two TDs, and Johnson was 5 of 7 for 128 yards and one TD.
The Roadrunners held the 49ers to eight yards rushing on 19 attempts and 229 yards passing. Redshirt freshman linebacker Josiah Tauaefa led UTSA with six tackles, giving him 104 for the regular season. It’s the first time a UTSA player has recorded 100 tackles in a season.
Here is a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of UTSA's 33-14 win over Charlotte:
Final: UTSA 33, Charlotte 14. The Roadrunners, 6-6 overall and 5-3 in Conference USA, become bowl eligible for the first time in the history of their program.
Fourth quarter (2:14): UTSA 33, Charlotte 14. Victor Falcon's 35-yard field-goal attempt goes wide right.
Fourth quarter (4:29): UTSA 33, Charlotte 14. Jalen Rhodes scores on a 2-yard TD run to cap a six-play, 77-yard march. The big play in the drive was a 35-yard pass from Jared Johnson to wide receiver JaBryce Taylor. Victor Falcon adds the PAT.
Fourth quarter (8:19): UTSA 26, Charlotte 14. Backup quarterback Jared Johnson throws to wide receiver Marquez McNair in left corner of the end zone for 20-yard TD. Johnson's pass on the two-point conversion falls incomplete. McNair's TD reception ends a seven-play, 76-yard drive. Johnson replaced starter Dalton Sturm at the start of the possession.
Fourth quarter (11:28): Jared Johnson starts UTSA possession at quarterback, replacing Dalton Sturm.
Fourth quarter (14:54): UTSA 20, Charlotte 14. Juwon Foggie scores on a 3-yard fumble return after Roadrunners punter Yannis Routsas bobbles the snap. The TD comes on the first play of the fourth period. Blake Brewer kicks the PAT.
End of third quarter: UTSA 20, Charlotte 7. The 49ers drove from their 25 to the Roadrunners' 7 before backup quarterback Kevin Olsen was sacked for an 11-yard loss on fourth-and-3.
Third quarter (4:41): UTSA 20, Charlotte 7. Victor Falcon kicks a 26-yard field goal, capping an eight-play, 46-yard drive.
Attendance for today's game: 23,807
Halftime: UTSA 17, Charlotte 7. The Roadrunners were at the 49ers' 7 when the half ended. Dalton Sturm completed a 4-yard pass to Marquez McNair on the eighth play of a drive that started at the UTSA 22 with 1:45 left. UTSA did not have any timeouts and McNair failed to get out of bounds, ending the half.
First-half notes: UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm completed 15 of 24 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns. . . . The Roadrunners outgained Charlotte 322-131 in total offense in the first two quarters, getting 53 on the ground and 269 passing. . . . Jalen Rhodes ran for 33 yards on eight carries. Kerry Thomas Jr. finished the half with three receptions for 121 yards and one TD. Brady Jones had three catches for 43 yards and a TD. . . . The UTSA defense held the 49ers to five yards rushing on 11 attempts. Charlotte quarterback Kalif Phillips hit 4 of 12 passes for 126 yards and one TD, a 76-yard strike to Austin Duke on the 49ers' third play from scrimmage. Duke had two receptions for 108 yards and the TD. . . . UTSA had a decided edge on time of possession, 20:49 to 9:11. The Roadrunners ran twice as many offensive plays as the 49ers (46-23). UTSA had 13 first downs and Charlotte had only four.
Second quarter (3:08): UTSA 17, Charlotte 7. Dalton Sturm throws a 13-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Brady Jones on a third-and-goal play. Score caps an 11-play, 61-yard drive. Victor Falcon adds the PAT. The key play in the drive was a 27-yard pass from Sturm to running back Jalen Rhodes on third-and-6 at the Roadrunners' 43. The gain gave UTSA a first down at the Charlotte 30.
End of first quarter: UTSA 10, Charlotte 7
First quarter (3:20): UTSA 10, Charlotte 7. Victor Falcon kicks a 21-yard field goal to put the Roadrunners up by three.
First quarter (12:58): Charlotte 7, UTSA 7. Trailing 7-0, the 49ers come roaring back with a 75-yard TD pass from Hasaan Klugh to wide receiver Austin Duke on their third offensive play. Blake Brewer adds the PAT.
First quarter (13:36): UTSA 7, Charlotte 0. Dalton Sturm connects with Kerry Thomas Jr. for a 73-yard touchdown on the third play of the game. Victor Falcon adds the PAT.
UTSA GAMEDAY: Bowl bid on line for Roadrunners in finale
Charlotte (4-7, 3-4 C-USA) vs. UTSA (5-6, 4-3 C-USA)
Kickoff: 6 p.m., Saturday, Alamodome
Series record: UTSA leads 1-0
Last meeting: UTSA 30, Charlotte 27, OT, Nov. 14, Charlotte, N.C.
Notable: A UTSA victory would make the Roadrunners bowl eligible for the first time in the history of their program, which is completing its sixth season.
SAN ANTONIO – Saturday’s regular-season finale against Charlotte will be no ordinary game for the UTSA Roadrunners, who are coming off a strong showing in a 23-10 loss to Texas A&M last week at Kyle Field.
Stuck at five victories for two weeks, UTSA needs one more win to become bowl eligible for the first time since it started playing football in 2011.
To hear coach Frank Wilson and the Roadrunners tell it, they’ll be more focused on the “little things” than a bowl bid when they face Charlotte on Saturday at the Alamodome.
“When you take care of business, you’ll receive the bowl bid,” Wilson said after a workout this week. “If you don’t take care of business, there’s no sense to look for the bowl if you’re not focused on the task at hand. The task at hand is what’s most important. From it, you get the bowl.”
UTSA, 5-6 overall and 4-3 in Conference USA, hasn’t played at home since beating North Texas 31-17 on Oct. 29. The Roadrunners started a three-game road trip the next week with a resounding 45-25 victory against heavily favored Middle Tennessee, setting up a showdown with Louisiana Tech for the C-USA West Division lead the following Saturday.
The Bulldogs slammed the door on UTSA’s bid to seize control of the West race, rolling to a 63-35 rout. A four-touchdown underdog against A&M, the Roadrunners held the Aggies scoreless in the fourth quarter before falling by 13 points.
“There’s really no moral victory to it, but it felt good to us knowing that we can compete with a Power Five SEC team like that,” junior safety Nate Gaines said. “We have a lot of confidence going into this week. Obviously, we didn’t win the game. We didn’t get embarrassed. It was just refreshing to see that defense, specifically, when we’re clicking on all cylinders, we can really play with anyone.”
A 38-31 loss to Middle Tennessee last week dropped Charlotte (4-7, 3-4) from bowl contention. The 49ers have dropped two in a row, falling 22-21 at home to Rice on Nov. 12 after opening the month with a 38-27 win at Southern Miss.
This will be the second meeting between UTSA and Charlotte, which is in its fourth season. The Roadrunners beat the 49ers 30-27 in overtime last year in Charlotte, N.C.
Gaines said that UTSA is more focused on beating Charlotte than a potential bowl game, although beating Charlotte is a means to that end.
“It is how it’s been all year, one game at a time,” Gaines said. “Charlotte is another team that’s in our way from accomplishing our goal. We’re never going to overlook a team like Charlotte.”
Dual-threat quarterback Hasaan Klugh directs a 49ers offense that is averaging 447.2 yards – 146.8 rushing and 300.4 passing. Klugh has completed 114 of 204 passes, with three interceptions, for 1,210 yards and nine TDs. He also has rushed for 436 yards and eight TDs.
"They're a very fast offense," Gaines said. "Their quarterback is probably the most athletic player on the offense. The main thing is having good eye discipline, just staying focused."
Kalif Phillips is Charlotte’s top rusher with 895 yards and four TDs on 180 carries. Austin Duke leads the receiving corps, catching 56 passes for 688 yards and three TDs. Another receiving threat is T.L. Ford II, who has 33 receptions for 422 yards and four TDs.
“They’re a very talented team,” Wilson said. “Their quarterback is a dual-threat quarterback that has great ability to run, but more so to extend the play keeping his head down the field to take shots. He’s made so many good plays doing that. Their running game is sound. Their back (Phillips) is a powerful, compact back who runs and gets tough yardage. He’s a very quality back.
“They have two receivers – 10 (Duke) and 13 (Ford) – who are long, athletic. They throw very efficiently when they do throw, although not a whole bunch from a numbers standpoint. They’re not going to throw it 70 times a game, but when they throw it, it’s usually completed.”
The Charlotte defense has 16 interceptions, with Kedrick Davis, Terrance Winchester and Ed Rolle getting three each.
“They’re ball hawks to the ball,” Wilson said. “Their defensive backs are very skilled. We have to be very aggressive from a receivers standpoint, to attack [the ball] midair and go get it because their defensive backs act like it’s intended for them. It’s evident by their 16 interceptions.”
Junior Dalton Sturm, who was relieved by senior Jared Johnson in the first quarter against A&M last week, will start at quarterback, Wilson said.
Twenty-two seniors will play their last regular-season game with UTSA. The other 21, besides Johnson, are Austin Blake-Smith, Gabriel Casillas, Cody Cole, Blake Dean, Jevonte Domond, Michael Egwuagu, Ronnie Feist, Kevin Garcia, Jordan Jones, Ben Kane, Andrew King, Vontrell King-Williams, Dalton Miller, Jordan Moore, Romario Napoles, Juan Rodriguez, Trevor Stevens, JaBryce Taylor, Jonathan Tuiolosega, Corbin White and Jarveon Williams.
(© 2016 KENS)