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UTSA wins I-35 Showdown against Texas State 25-21

The I-35 Showdown surpassed expectations as UTSA’s special teams won the day against Texas State.

NCAA Football: Texas-San Antonio at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

All is fair in love and war, and there was no love lost between the Bobcats and the Roadrunners on Saturday. The programs met on the gridiron in the famed H-E-B I-35 Showdown rivalry game for just the third time in series history, and fans got quite the treat as the two slugged out the closest contest to date.

This game had it all — turnovers, safeties, blocked punts, onside kicks, trick plays.

It all got off to a scorching start during the game-opening drive, when Texas State quarterback Willie Jones III was ambushed on just the third snap from scrimmage by a scrum led by middle linebacker Josiah Tauaefa. Jones had the ball slapped out of his hand by Tauaefa and UTSA defensive end Lorenzo Dantzler came flying in for the 27 yard scoop-and-score return touchdown.

In fact, the play was almost an exact time capsule to UTSA’s defensive start in San Marcos just a year earlier.

The dashing start was followed up with a 10 play, 58 yard touchdown drive from UTSA. The two-punch tailback system in Jalen Rhodes and B.J. Daniels accounted for 42 of those yards on seven combined carries as the two just pummeled through Texas State’s front seven. The duo would end the day with 114 yards combined.

After a leaping endzone catch from wide receiver Tykee Ogle-Kellogg put the Roadrunners up 14-0, not even halfway through the first quarter, fans in the Alamodome began to smell a boat race.

But the rivalry would deliver, and Texas State would punch back.

The Bobcats had to deal with heavy adversity early in the game when they lost Willie Jones III to a shoulder injury on their second offensive drive. After a failed three-and-out series from second string quarterback Jaylen Gipson, freshman Tyler Vitt got under center for Texas State. He was an instant playmaker.

Vitt’s first snap was a 23 yard completion to Keenen Brown, which he followed up with the “San Marcos Special”, a reverse pass from wide receiver Hutch White who hit a streaking Vitt for 26 yards inside the redzone.

Vitt would punch in the touchdown on a quarterback keeper from the one yard line only two plays later, and it was clear that Texas State coach Everett Withers was ready to pull out all of the stops.

Vitt put on a show in his hometown of San Antonio. He is a potent talent and showed his ability to be a dual-threat quarterback at the collegiate level. He plays with tenacity and a lot of guts, with no hesitance to launch the deep ball or take off on foot. He is raw, and had a rough time dealing with UTSA’s pass rush, but Bobcat fans should be thrilled about their next quarterback. He ended the day 15 for 22 with 192 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

As for UTSA’s quarterback situation, it remains to be in a stagnant state. Head coach Frank Wilson didn’t cycle multiple quarterbacks, but starting quarterback Cordale Grundy showed a lot of inaccuracy. There were several pass attempts that sailed well over the heads of the targeted receivers, and times of indecision that cut a few momentous drives short. Not all of the blame can be put on Grundy as UTSA’s offensive line is still tremendously lacking, giving up six tackles for loss, a sack, four quarterback hurries and four batted passes. Grundy ended 19 for 35 with 127 yards and a touchdown, averaging only 3.6 yards per completion.

Toward the end of the third quarter, Vitt led an 82-yard touchdown drive to bring the Bobcats within three. It was capped off by a 21 yard dart to Brown on a crucial third and 16, where Vitt had forever and a day to find an open receiver, showing impressive patience.

And with that, center stage was set for a wild fourth quarter.

Stalled drives from UTSA made way for special teams to win the day. Placekicker Jared Sackett nailed back-to-back field goals from 40 and 44 yards out, respectively, to push UTSA’s lead to 23-14. He had three field goals on the day, all from 40 yards and over.

The most important play of the game came on an onside kick call between those two field goal drives. Perhaps the gutsiest call of UTSA’s season, Wilson and his staff were clearly not confident in handing the ball back to Vitt, and instead opted for the onside kick out of regular formation. It worked as Hunter Duplessis hit a perfect floater over the return team that found Dadrian Taylor on the sideline.

Unfortunately for the faint of heart, the game was far from over with seven minutes still to play in the fourth.

As UTSA lined up to punt on fourth down, Texas State bomb-rushed UTSA punter Yannis Routsas and blocked the kick. Vitt took over and delivered another touchdown on third and long almost instantly, this time to White for 13 yards.

It was 23-21 with five minutes left and Texas State had all the momentum.

Another zero output drive from the Roadrunners' offense had UTSA back in punt formation, and fans in the Alamodome were nervous. Routsas was clutch, and hit a perfect squibble that bounced 53 yards downfield to the Texas State two yard line. It would be on the Roadrunners' defense to stop a 98 yard drive.

A questionable play on first down had Vitt running a quarterback draw out of his own endzone, shattering the freshman’s debut curtain call in favor of UTSA. Defensive end Kevin Strong exploded into the backfield for the safety, and the Alamodome exhaled a sigh of relief as the day was won for the Roadrunners.

It was by far the best installment in the rivalry series yet, and perhaps the first contest that actually felt like a “true” rivalry game. There was clear disdain for the opponent on field as both coaches extinguished their entire arsenal of ammunition. In the end, UTSA won on the heels of its defense and special teams, but was outscored 14-11 in the final three quarters of play. Texas State could’ve very well stolen the game.

The Roadrunners improve to 3-0 all time against Texas State, but are just 1-3 on the season. Their out of conference schedule comes to an end as division foe UTEP will visit the Alamodome next week in what’s another whacky series of its own. Frank Wilson and UTSA offense has a whole lot of work to do going into conference play.

As for Texas State, they also fall to 1-3. They’ll take on the Ragin’ Cajuns as ULL travels to San Marcos next week.