By Pat Turner
UTSA jumped into the win column for the first time this season, but not without a battle from I-35 rival Texas State.
Thanks to steady defensive play, three field goals from Jarred Sackett and a late safety, the Roadrunners prevailed with a 25-21 victory before 29,205 at the Alamodome Saturday night.
It wasn’t pretty at times. Not only did the Roadrunners miss scoring opportunities and have breakdowns on offense and special teams, MacArthur product Tyler Vitt caused problems after taking over at quarterback in the first half following an injury to starter Willie Jones III. Vitt completed 15 of 22 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns, but defense was the Roadrunners’ salvation.
Throughout the contest, Josiah Tauaefa (nine tackles, 2.5 sacks), Les Mauro, Brenndan Johnson, Lorenzo Dantzler, C.J. Levine, Andrew Martel, Clayton Johnson and Kevin Strong Jr. leading the unit with critical plays throughout the contest.
“We did what we needed to win,” UTSA coach Frank Wilson said. “Wins are not easy. They’re hard to come by and you take them how you can get them in any form. To get the first one of this season is big for our football team. It’s big for their morale, esteem and confidence.”
UTSA’s defense got the Roadrunners rolling to a 14-0 lead in the first eight minutes.
Facing third and 4 at the Texas State 36, Jones dropped back for a pass attempt and was drilled by Tauaefa, leading to a fumble. Dantzler scooped up the ball and raced 27-yards for the touchdown, giving UTSA its first advantage of the season.
“I was in a position to get past the center and get within reach of the quarterback,” Tauaefa said. “I see the ball out. I swipe at it, it pops out. And then I immediately turn around and see Zo (Dantzler) scoop it up.
“Immediately, your mind on the defensive side changes from getting to the ball to trying to keep people away from the ball once you have it. So, everybody turns into a blocker and Zo took it the rest of the way.”
Dantlzer, making his first career start, was happy to play a role in UTSA’s first touchdown.
“I knew we needed a big play on the first series,” Dantzler said. “I came around the edge and Josiah got to the quarterback first. I saw the ball and just scooped and took it the other way.”
The Roadrunners padded the lead on their first possession. Relying on the blocking of Treyvion Shannon, Spencer Burford, Kevin Davis, Josh Dunlop and Jalyn Galmore, Jalen Rhodes and B.J. Daniels got UTSA to Texas State’s 18 with their running.
The drive appeared to have died when Cordale Grundy hurled a pass to Kirk Johnson Jr. The UTSA receiver lost the ball and Texas State recovered. Officials reviewed the play and determined Johnson was down before the fumble occurred.
Two plays later, Grundy (19 of 35 passes for 127 yards) connected with Tykee Ogle-Kellogg from 7 yards out to put UTSA at a 14-0 advantage.
Although a fast start was helpful, the Roadrunners had to come up with more to pull out a victory as Texas State (1-3) started coming to life.
Vitt, the Bobcats’ third quarterback to see action in the half, provided a spark. He tossed a 23-yard pass to Keenen Brown and zipped a 26-yard side liner to Kerrville Tivy’s Hutch White, before eventually scoring on a 1-yard dive.
Both offenses stalled after that, but UTSA was ended the half with a 40-yard field goal from Sackett to increase its lead to 17-7.
Vitt guided Bobcats on an 82-yard, 10-play scoring drive to pull within 17-14.
Vitt’s effort and a pass interference put the Bobcats at UTSA’s 15, but they encountered a couple breakdowns as a motion penalty and Tauefa’s drop of Keenen Brown for a 1-yard loss put the Bobcats in a third-and-16 situation.
Vitt got the Bobcats through the struggle when he rolled to his right and found an open Brown in the end zone for a 21-yard TD strike.
UTSA came back with another 40-yard field goal from Sackett to go up, 20-14. Then, came a surprise.
UTSA caught the Bobcats off guard with an onside kick. The Roadrunners were unable to get the ball in the end zone, but Sackett’s 45-yard field goal provided a little more breathing room with a 23-14 advantage.
However, more pressure fell on UTSA when Texas State’s Anthony D. Taylor blocked the Roadrunners’ punt, putting the Bobcats at UTSA’s 14.
Vitt got into the end zone on a 3-yard scamper, but a holding penalty wiped out the score. However, the Texas State quarterback came back with a 13-yard touchdown pass to White, bringing the Bobcats within 23-21 with 5:08 remaining.
The Roadrunners finished strong. After their next possession fizzled, they had to punt again. This time something good happened.
Yannis Routsas lined his kick to Texas State’s 2. On the first play, Strong wrapped up Vitt in the end zone for a safety.
That proved to be UTSA’s needed knockout punch.
“We were able to punt the ball back down and pin them at the 2-yard line, and then really pin our ears back and say, ‘you know what, let’s go get them,” Wilson said. “And Jason Rollins on our defensive staff made a great call. “The safety was the turning point to seal the victory for our team.”
Now, the Roadrunners look to build on their accomplishment going into Saturday’s Conference USA opener with UTEP in the Alamdome.
“I think we’re in the best mood we can possibly be right now,” said wide receiver Greg Campbell Jr., who had seven catches for 71 yards. “We’re moving forward. We’re glad we got this one and we build off this one.