Before the rise Tom Herman's Houston Cougars, the crown of NCAA Football's mid-majors belonged to no one. There were strong teams in Conference USA like Marshall, Rice, Western Kentucky, and Louisiana Tech but there wasn't one true ruler.
In central Texas there was a young Roadrunner program hailing from the Alamo University, UTSA. They were strong-willed and fierce, and had with them a small cult of loyal followers. Quickly and with certainty, they let their intention to take the throne become well known.
After a year of training in the FCS, the Roadrunners took college football by storm, earning an 8-4 record in 2012 - their first season in the FBS. The following year (their first season in C-USA), the team rallied after a poor 2-5 start to win their last five games of the season. The 7-5 finish should have been good enough to grant UTSA the honor of being the youngest program to ever receive a bowl invitation, but NCAA reclassification rules snubbed the team's right to a 13th game. They hadn't committed any treason, yet were unfairly held against their will.
In 2014, UTSA's army was stronger and more battle tested than any other team in the country with the largest senior roster in college football. There were whispers of a conference title and it was apparent that mid-majors across the land were beginning to respect and fear the young Roadrunners.
The season began against loathed state rivals, the Houston Cougars, in the grand unveiling of their new TDECU
Castle Stadium. The Roadrunner Faithful marched down I-10 east to see their king disembowel Houston, thrashing the Cougars 27-0 through 59 minutes before allowing a trash-time touchdown with 1:02 remaining. The defense forced six turnovers and bullied Houston to -26 yards on ground. The win put mid-majors throughout the country on high alert; UTSA - much like the winter - was coming.
Before running the gauntlet the Roadrunners were slated to come home to San Antonio, where they were primed to earn their first Power-5 victory against Pac-12 powerhouse, Arizona.
It was a Thursday night at the Alamodome in front 33,000 manic fans. UTSA's defense was led studs Bennett Okotcha, Triston Wade, Drew Douglas, Jens Jeters, and Nic Johnston. The offense was fueled by David Glasco and a young Jarveon Williams, with quarterback Tucker Carter making his second career start. He had a full arsenal of weapons in a receiving core of Kam Jones, Aaron Grubb, and David Morgan.
Arizona had a monster of a running back in Nick Wilson and a pretty good redshirt freshman at quarterback in Anu Solomon. The Wildcat defense had built ridiculous hype over the offseason around linebacker Scooby Wright, who was favored to be the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
The atmosphere was furious as UTSA came out of the gate, but on the first play from scrimmage, Solomon hit Cayleb Jones for an 85-yard touchdown, immediately shunning the home crowd. UTSA responded with a three-and-out and Arizona marched right back down the field to hit a 38-yard field goal. It was 10-0 and four minutes hadn't even passed by.
Then, just as fans were wondering if they made the right evening plans, UTSA marched 85 yards and Morgan bashed his way through two defenders into the endzone. The gas was back.
The second quarter proved to be one of the wildest sequences of events in UTSA Football history. After a second Arizona field goal, UTSA went 79 yards on another hard-fought touchdown drive. The Roadrunners led 14-13. Back-to-back three-and-outs ensued, and then, pandemonium struck.
UTSA punter Kristian Stern downed the ball at Arizona's three-yard line, and proceeded to hit the Bernie. An over-the-head snap on third down allowed UTSA to force the safety and go up 16-13. The home crowd went ballistic.
That moment was almost dream-like; people were in disbelief. Jubilant, furious, and in shock - all at the same time.
And just as UTSA had the first half sewed up, the daggers struck.
Arizona got the ball back and the Roadrunners committed back-to-back personal fouls that took the Wildcats from UTSA's 29 to their own two. Touchdown.
Locker rooms; Arizona led 20-16 and had all the momentum they needed.
UTSA would continue to battle but never could regain the lead. A missed 25-yard field goal by Sean Ianno proved to be the difference in the final score, 26-23. UTSA had a chance at the two-minute drill, but Jared Tevis intercepted Carter with 45 seconds left to slit the throat on the Roadrunner's chance of victory.
The damage wasn't immediate as fans were proud of the fight and people were outright convinced that UTSA was a contender. Little did we know...
Roadrunner Head Coach Larry Coker would emphasize how critical that second quarter score was, and how losing the lead before halftime was pivotal in deciding the outcome. What he didn't know were the long-term affects of the loss.
Losing that battle ceased all of UTSA's war efforts. They've been a hopeless 6-16 since in two seasons plagued with missed opportunities, penalties, blunders, and injuries. Everything the program built had crumbled just as quick, and the dream turned to nightmare as it was all too good to be true. The cult of Roadrunner Faithful dwindled, bleachers emptied, Coker was overthrown, and hope was lost.
One defeat can end an era.
Two winters later, the Alamodome still stands, waiting to be brought back to glory by the one true king of the mid-majors.