SAN ANTONIO – Make that three consecutive victories against Rice for UTSA.
Stung by gut-wrenching losses in their previous two games, the Roadrunners broke out of their funk Saturday with a hard-fought 20-7 Conference USA win over the Owls before a homecoming crowd of 25,270 at the Alamodome.
Improving to 4-2 overall and 1-2 in C-USA play, UTSA tied the longest series in their program's short history at 3-3. Rice fell to 1-6 and 1-2 with its fifth loss in a row.
After a 3-0 start this season, the Roadrunners dropped their conference opener to Southern Miss 31-29 at home on Oct. 14 and fell to North Texas 29-26 last Saturday in Denton. UTSA blew a four-point lead in the final minute against North Texas, which scored the winning touchdown with 10 seconds left after driving 98 yards with no timeout left.
"Much better finish," UTSA coach Frank Wilson said. "At the end of the day, you just want to find a way to win the game, however it may be. I thought our team did that. Persevered, pushed through.
"When we needed a first down this week in a four-minute drill to close out the game, we found a way to get it done. Very proud of the effort to achieve victory for this team, for our university, for our alumni, for our city on homecoming day. Big victory for the Roadrunners today."
The Roadrunners outgained the Owls 448-300 in total offense, getting 314 rushing and 134 passing. Rice finished with 155 yards on the ground and 145 through the air.
Senior running back Tyrell Clay, a former walk-on, rushed for a career-best 153 yards on only 11 carries (13.9 average). He ripped off a career-long 73-yard run that set up a field goal in the first quarter.
"I'm blessed," Clay said. "That's the best way I can describe it. I'm just thankful that the coaches trust me to run the ball, and big ups to the receivers and the O-line. The receivers blocking 20, 30 yards down the field, and the O-line created creases and I just took advantage."
Wilson heaped praise on Clay, who has backed up starting tailback Jalen Rhodes throughout the season.
"I think he plays with all heart, man," Wilson said of Clay. "I thought he played with physicality. He ran behind his pads. He never stopped churning his legs. He was able to slash in there at times, then at the point of contact really lean forward and plow through tackles and made them earn their way.
"They had to wrap him up and tackle him. He played determined today, and we have a little saying where we say to our players, 'Let your personality show.' I thought he played with a vengeance today with extreme physicality."
Senior defensive end Marcus Davenport also had an outstanding game, scoring UTSA's first touchdown on a 34-yard field fumble return and tying his career in tackles with 11. A Stevens High School graduate, Davenport had two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He even threw in a pass breakup for good measure.
The TD on the fumble return was the first of Davenport's college career. He was asked what went through his mind when he saw the ball loose on the turf.
"First thought was 'dang,'" Davenport said. "Then the second thought was the only person who could stop me was the quarterback, so I just tried to push him down."
Backup sophomore cornerback Clayton Johnson, a former walk-on who saw his most extensve action of the season after Devron Davis was injured, also gave the defense a boost with two interceptions.
"How about C.J.?" Wilson said. "Another walk-on. Devron Davis went down early and we started our rotation. It was never more apparent than it was today. A lot of guys played who may not have played a lot of meaningful snaps in the past. So C.J. was one of them."
Other UTSA players who went to the bench with injuries were middle linebacker Josiah Tauaefa, defensive tackle Baylen Baker, linebacker La'Kel Bass and offensive guard Stefan Beard. Steady senior wide receiver Kerry Thomas Jr. also sat out the game.
Wilson was effusive in his praise of Davenport, who anchored a defense that shut out Rice in the second half and allowed only 146 yards in the last two quarters.
"I thought he played lights out today," Wilson said. "Continues to improve week after week after week. I thought when it was money downs and third-down situations, fourth-down situations and we needed a play, we were able to depend on him. He came through in a big way for us. Whenever he gets a one-on-one matchup, I'm siding with him. I'm going with 93."
Rice coach David Bailiff, a 1976 MacArthur High School graduate, also had good things to say about Davenport.
"He's an incredible player and we knew that coming into the game," Bailiff said. "We've watched him. He's going to make a lot of money playing this game. That last sack, he blew past our tackle, but he's that great a player. You've got to be aware of where he is every play of the game."
Jared Sackett kicked a 20-yard field goal to extend UTSA’s lead to 20-7 with 5:40 left in the third quarter. The kick capped a nine-play, 58-yard drive. The Roadrunners made the 13-point lead stand in the fourth quarter.
Ahead 10-7 at the half, UTSA went up 17-7 on a 26-yard pass from Dalton Sturm to wide receiver Brady Jones with only 2:49 elapsed in the second half. Sackett added the conversion kick. Sturm’s scoring throw tied the school record of 46 career TD passes, set by Eric Soza (2011-13).
The four-play, 55-yard drive began after an interception by Clayton Johnson, who returned the pick 10 yards to the Rice 45. A 10-yard holding penalty against the Roadrunners moved the ball back to the UTSA 45. A key play in the drive was a 26-yard run by Greg Campbell on a second-and-3 play at the Rice 48.
Down 10-0 after the first quarter, Rice trimmed the deficit to three on a 50-yard scoring strike from Sam Glaesmann to wide receiver Aaron Cephus with 4:11 in the first half. Cephus beat UTSA freshman cornerback Javontavius Mosley for the ball on the play.
Cephus’ TD reception ended a 10-play 96-yard drive that started after a UTSA punt. The key play in the drive was a personal foul against Roadrunners safety Nate Gaines that gave the Owls a first down at the 50.
The Roadrunners went ahead 10-0 on an 18-yard field goal by Sackett with three seconds left in the first quarter. Sackett’s kicked capped an eight-play, 90-yard drive that began after an Owls punt. The key play in the drive was Clay's 73-yard burst over left guard.
UTSA drove from its 15 to the Rice 25 on the game’s opening possession, but the drive fizzled when Jalen Rhodes fumbled on a first-down play at the 25. Linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee recovered the fumble at the Rice 22. Defensive end Roe Wilkins caused the fumble.
Disaster struck the Owls on the ensuing possession when Glaesmann lost the ball while dropping back to pass on first-and-10 at the Rice 46, and Davenport returned the fumble for a 34-yard TD. Sackett’s kick made it 7-0 with 8:00 left in the first quarter.
UTSA, in a three-way for fourth place in the C-USA West Division standings, plays at UTEP on Saturday.
Tonight's attendance: 25,270
Final: UTSA 20, Rice 7
End of third quarter: UTSA 20, Rice 7
UTSA 20, Rice 7
Third quarter: 5:40: Jared Sackett kicks a 20-yard field goal, ending a nine-play, 58-yard march.
UTSA 17, Rice 7
Third quarter, 12:11: Dalton Sturm connects with Brady Jones in the right-front corner of the end zone for a 26-yard TD, capping a four-play, 55-yard drive that began after an interception by Clayton Johnson. Johnson returned the pick 10 yards to the Rice 45, but a 10-yard holding penalty moved the ball back to the Roadrunners' 45.
Halftime: UTSA 10, Rice 7
UTSA 10, Rice 7
Second quarter, 4:11: Sam Glaesmann throws 50-yard pass to wide receiver Aaron Cephus, who beat freshman cornerback Javontavious Mosley for the ball at the UTSA 25 and sprinted down the right sideline for the touchdown. Will Harrison kicks the extra point. Mosley's reception ends a 10-play, 96-yard drive that started after a punt. The key play in the drive was a personal-foul penalty against Roadrunners safety Nate Gaines on a third-and-23 play at the Owls' 35. Glaesmann's pass to wide receiver Kylen Granson fell incomplete in the middle of the field, but the personal foul gave Rice an automatic first down.
End of first quarter: UTSA 10, Rice 0
UTSA 10, Rice 0
First quarter, 0:03: Jared Sackett kicks an 18-yard field goal, capping eight-play, 90-yard drive. The key play in the march was a 73-yard run by Tyrell Clay that moved UTSA from its 21 to the Owls' 6.
UTSA 7, Rice 0
First quarter, 8:00: Owls quarterback Sam Glaesmann fumbles while attempting to pass and UTSA defensive end Marcus Davenport picks up the loose ball and races 34 yards for a touchdown on the return. Jared Sackett kicks the extra point.
Rice 0, UTSA 0
First quarter, 11:28: The Roadrunners drive from their 15 to the Rice 25 on game's opening possession, but the drive fizzles when running back Jalen Rhodes fumbles and linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee recovers for the Owls at the Rice 34. Defensive end Roe Wilkins caused the fumble.
UTSA GAMEDAY: Roadrunners seeking to get back their mojo
Rice (1-5, 1-1) vs. UTSA (3-2, 0-2)
When, where: Saturday, 6 p.m., Alamodome
Series history: Rice leads 3-2
Last meeting: UTSA 14, Rice 13, Oct. 15, 2016, Rice Stadium
UTSA’s last game: North Texas 29, UTSA 26, Oct. 14, Denton
Rice’s last game: Army 49, Rice 12, Oct. 7, Rice Stadium
Notable: UTSA has never been 0-3 in conference play.
SAN ANTONIO – Suddenly, 3-0 seems like so long ago.
After gut-wrenching losses the past two weeks, UTSA returns to the Alamodome on Saturday still seeking its first Conference USA victory of the season.
A loss against Rice (1-5, 1-1) would drop the Roadrunners (3-2, 0-2) to their first 0-3 start in conference play since they kicked off their inaugural season in 2011. The Owls lead the series 3-2, but UTSA has won the last two meetings, 14-13 last year in Houston and 34-24 in 2015 at the Alamodome.
Frustrated with their two-game skid, the Roadrunners had a players-only meeting Monday and were off limits to the media on Tuesday and Wednesday, the days they talk to the media after practice each week.
“They confided in one another and the things that they need to do individually (and) collectively as a team, and post that, I visited with our team and one of the things they wanted to do is really concentrate on this opponent."
“I’m respectful of that. I want them to do that, and that was part of something I agreed on and want to allow them to have, the opportunity to focus on one another and just be about this opponent.”
After beating Baylor, Southern and Texas State – three teams that are a combined 4-15 – UTSA started its slide with a 31-29 loss to Southern Miss in its conference opener Oct. 7 at the Alamodome.
Down by 15 in the fourth quarter, the Roadrunners pulled to within two with two touchdown passes from Dalton Sturm to Marquez McNair with less than a minute left. But the rally fizzled when Sturm’s pass to Josh Stewart on the two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete in the end zone.
UTSA suffered a more galling defeat to North Texas last week, blowing a four-point lead in the final 1:07. The Mean Green pulled out a 29-26 victory after driving 98 yards, with no timeouts, for the winning TD with 10 seconds left.
After falling short at the end the past two weeks, the Roadrunners put added emphasis in practice on finishing games.
“We have guys that are engaged with opponents, and what happens is they fall off late,” Wilson said. “We have guys that are pursuing and we stop a step or two early. We need to be able to play through the whistle. Play the play in its entirety.”
Rice head coach David Bailiff, a 1976 MacArthur High School graduate, is in his 11th season with the Owls. Rice has lost four in a row since beating UTEP 31-14 in its second game and had a bye last week after losing to Army 49-12 on Oct. 7.
“When you look at them in conference play, how competitive that they are, whether it’s against UTEP, whether it’s against FIU,” Wilson said, responding to a question about what impresses him about Rice. “Just a very competitive spirit. They competed very well, within a touchdown of FIU (13-7 loss). They have a really good football team.”
So, what’s the mindset of the Roadrunners going into Saturday’s game?
“They called their meeting on their own, and so I think some soul searching and digging deep, and let’s go compete, let’s be who we are,” Wilson said. “And being who we are is good enough. But we have to be the best that we can be. I think that’s the rally cry. Let’s be the best that we can be. We’ll see where the chips fall after that.”
Sturm completed 17 of 25 passes for 209 yards and two TDs, both to wide receiver Josh Stewart, in UTSA’s win over Rice last year. Stewart finished with 103 receiving yards, and his scoring receptions were the only catches he had.
UTSA is celebrating Homecoming on Saturday.