By Pat Turner
Hopes of snapping a six-game losing streak and ending a disappointing 2018 campaign on a positive note looked promising for UTSA in Saturday’s regular-season finale with North Texas.
UTSA had overcome a 17-point deficit and were within striking distance of pulling out a dramatic victory or sending the game into overtime.
The Roadrunners were unable to deliver the finishing touch as North Texas held on for a 24-21vicory at the Alamodome.
It was a gut-wrenching way to end a season that looked promising in the early going. At one point, UTSA owned a 3-3 season record and were riding a three-game winning streak that lead to 2-0 start in the Conference USA West Division. Injuries, inexperience and inconsistency got in the way and things turned sour.
On the final day of the season, the Roadrunners (3-9, 2-6) played as if everything was on the line against one of the top teams in the league.
UTSA’s offense, which had scored 10 points in its previous three games, came to life with quarterback Bryce Rivers passing for 269 yards and a touchdown in his first start and senior receiver Greg Campbell Jr. delivered a memorable finale, snagging a career-high 11receptions for 186 yards.
“I thought the team as a whole wanted so bad to try to generate a victory for our seniors to end on a high note,” UTSA coach Frank Wilson said. “I thought we put ourselves in a position to win the football game. But the reality is we came up three points short and time expired on us.”
Things looked promising for UTSA Roadrunners sliced the 17-0 deficit to three points with Brenden Brady’s 1-yard run and Rivers’ 3-yard keeper.
Neither offense could get anything cranking in the second half until North Texas built a 24-14 lead with DeAndre Torrey’s 3-yard run that capped a nine-play, 74-yard drive.
UTSA, however, made things more than a little interesting in the fourth quarter.
Stationed at UTSA’s 8-yard line, Rivers put the Roadrunners in more comfortable field position by zipping passes of 42 and 27 yards to Campbell.
After Brady, who rushed for 90 yards on 11 carries, put the Roadrunners at the 8-yard line with his swift work, Rivers found Tariq Woolen in the end zone.
Even after pulling within three, North Texas appeared to have the advantage as quarterback Mason Fine, who passed for 320 yards and two touchdowns, and Torrey (155 yards) moved the Mean Green to UTSA’s 32 with a chance to put a clamp on the victory.
UTSA’s defense gave the Roadrunners hopes of a comeback. Josiah Tauaefa, who finished with 14 tackles, and Eric Banks put North Texas in a fourth-and-1 situation. Kevin Strong Jr. then foiled the Mean Green’s gamble by dropping Torey for a 2-yard loss.
Rivers got the offense rolling with a 10-yard pass to Woolen and an 18-yard strike to Sheldon Jones. A 1-yard loss, false start and sack put UTSA in a fourth-and-16 at the 42 with 30 seconds remaining.
Rivers and Campbell kept the Roadrunners’ hopes alive by combining for a 35-yard connection.
Once again, struggles occurred. A pass into the end zone was off target. In addition, a delay of game and 9-yard sack put UTSA at the 31 with five seconds remaining.
The Roadrunners called on reliable Jared Sackett to try to send the game into OT. His kick had the distance but sailed wide right, enabling North Texas to cling on for the victory.
“We wanted to give our kids a chance to win the game,” Wilson said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t hold up enough from a protection standpoint or didn’t get the ball out fast enough. We took a sack and then lined up for a field goal that Jared makes routinely.
“He makes it in practice. He’s made it in a game. We felt very confident he would be able to do it. We would call it again, because he’s capable of making that field goal.
“We just wanted to give our kids a chance to win this game. And going into overtime at home certainly bodes well for the home team. That’s what we were trying to do.”
Although it was a disappointing season, Wilson remained upbeat. He saw plenty of positives in the tough times and believe the future is still bright
“I have a tremendous amount of confidence,” Wilson said. “We’ll come back bigger, faster and stronger. The future is bright here.”
At the same time, Wilson praised his seniors, who made an impact on the program.
“They meant a lot to us,” Wilson said. “They were the ones that came here when it wasn’t always popular to come here. They were the guys that were unheralded, didn’t get recruited by everybody, but came here, found something in UTSA that said this embodies what I’m looking for, a great college experience.