SAN ANTONIO — Josh Adkins came off the bench to throw for 233 yards, Zakhari Franklin registered his second career 100-yard receiving game and Jamal Ligon broke UTSA’s single-game tackles record as the Roadrunners outlasted Middle Tennessee, 37-35, in the Conference USA opener on Friday night at the Alamodome.
UTSA held on for the two-point win in the final minutes to run its record to 3-0 on the season, making Jeff Traylor the first head coach in program history to start his career with three wins. The Blue Raiders (0-3, 0-1) had a chance to tie it but failed on a two-point conversion attempt with 1:04 left to play, sending the Roadrunners to their fifth win in nine all-time league lid-lifters.
Ligon registered 19 tackles, including eight solo stops and 1.5 sacks, to go along with a pair of quarterback hurries in his record-setting night. The true freshman from Tyler eclipsed the previous standard of 16 set by Cody Rogers on Nov. 12, 2011, against McNeese State to lead the defense.
Meanwhile, Adkins completed 16 of 28 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown in a little more than one half of football. The junior transfer from Smithson Valley High School entered the game on the final drive of the second quarter after Frank Harris left the game with an injury.
Franklin hauled in six passes for 119 yards and a TD in his first action of the season. The sophomore from Cedar Hill logged his second career 100-yard receiving game and the 15th in program history to lead the receiving corps.
In a game that started slow offensively, UTSA and Middle Tennessee found themselves in a second-half shootout that came down to the wire.
Hunter Duplessis hit his third field goal of the night to hand UTSA a 37-29 lead with 11:39 remaining. The senior from San Antonio Cole made all three of his attempts to extend his consecutive field goals made streak to 16, the longest in the FBS.
The two teams traded possessions twice more before the Blue Raiders put together a 13-play, 72-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Asher O’Hara to Yusuf Ali. Trailing by two with 1:04 on the clock, Middle Tennessee went for two but O’Hara’s pass fell incomplete.
With no timeouts left, the Blue Raiders then tried an onside kick, but UTSA’s Trevor Harmanson recovered it and UTSA’s offense ran out the clock to secure the second win in three meetings with Middle Tennessee.
O’Hara completed 31 of 47 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns and he also rushed for 61 yards to help the Blue Raiders tally 563 yards of offense. Jayy McDonald led the team with 76 yards on the ground while Chaton Mobley had 54 yards and a pair of rushing TDs to go along with one receiving touchdown.
The Blue Raiders struck first on a 26-yard field goal by Crews Holt halfway through an opening quarter that saw the defenses yield just 155 combined yards.
UTSA got on the board in the second quarter, taking advantage of a short field following a 21-yard punt. A defensive pass interference penalty then set up a 25-yard scoring connection on a perfectly placed pass from Harris to Franklin.
The Roadrunners turned the field around again on the next possession, as Donyai Taylor picked off a pass and returned it 28 yards down the right sideline to the Middle Tennessee 28-yard line. A personal foul penalty took the ball down to the 14, where Harris handed off the McCormick on back-to-back plays, the second of which resulted in an 11-yard TD scamper.
Middle Tennessee used a pair of long passes from O’Hara to Jarrin Pierce, who caught seven balls for 107 yards, including a 42-yarder that took the ball down to the UTSA 12-yard line. Three plays later, Mobley reached the end zone from 1-yard out and the point after touchdown made it 14-10 with 1:08 left in the half.
UTSA quickly drove down the field on the ensuing possession, as a 20-yard QB keeper by Harris set the home team up at the 47. Following a pair of incomplete passes, Adkins came on to replace Harris, who left with an injury, and found Joshua Cephus open for 11 yards and Brennon Dingle, who had five catches for 72 yards, on a seam route for 29. After two shots into the end zone fell incomplete, Duplessis drilled a 24-yard field goal, to provide a 17-10 halftime advantage.
Duplessis nailed a 27 yarder early in the third quarter, but the Blue Raiders took their second lead of the night at 23-20 after putting together drives of 75 and 96 yards, both of which were capped with Mobley touchdowns.
The Roadrunners responded quickly to reclaim the lead, as a 43-yard kickoff return by Dingle put the ball near midfield. Adkins found Franklin wide open for a 48-yard connection down to the 1-yard line. Sincere McCormick, who finished with 82 yards on 19 carries, punched it in on the next play and Duplessis’ PAT put UTSA on top, 27-23.
Cephus posted his third touchdown reception of the year on a 7-yard pass from Adkins that helped stake UTSA to a 34-23 advantage late in the third quarter.
The Roadrunners will hit the road to face UAB (2-1, 0-0) next Saturday, Oct. 3. Kickoff is set for 11:30 a.m. at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., and the game will air on Stadium and on Ticket 760 AM in the San Antonio area.
[[This game recap was provided by UTSA Athletics.]]