Rivalry games are just different; statistics are often irrelevant, and the games are frequently decided in the final minutes. No matter its age or history, a rivalry built on the gridiron brings out the best in both teams. As college football undergoes another transition with conference realignment older rivalries are beginning to fade but others have sprung up to take their place.
Amidst this transition has arisen a new and exciting Texas-style rivalry between UTSA and North Texas, one that was bred in C-USA and will carry over next year into the AAC. In just one decade, it has become one of college football’s more intense rivalries, and it is apparent that both teams do not treat the series as an ordinary game. Through heartbreaking losses, resounding victories, and unexpected upsets, the Roadrunners and Mean Green bring out the best in each other.
We can now add Saturday’s contest to the pantheon of games these programs will not soon forget. In a matchup with conference title implications, with both teams 3-0 in conference play, the Roadrunners found a way to ensure victory in the final seconds and even the series at five wins apiece. UTSA now enters their bye week in firm control of the conference standings while North Texas looks to rebound and hopefully get a second chance to upset the Roadrunners. If that happens, C-USA might just have one of the most exciting conference championship this year.
How It Happened
Despite the thrilling conclusion, this game started out as anything but exciting. UTSA came into this matchup with one of the more prolific passing offenses in the country. Meanwhile, UNT brought an explosive running attack that was coming off a program-record 475-yard rushing game the week prior. By halftime, UTSA had thrown one interception and only 89 yards passing, North Texas had gained only five yards rushing, and neither team found the end zone. The teams combined for nine points as North Texas took a 6-3 lead into the locker room.
Then the second half started, and the field goals stopped. Both teams would score touchdowns thereafter—UTSA with four and North Texas with three—and the lead changed seven times, with five coming in the fourth quarter.
“We played a lot cleaner in the second half [and] made some good adjustments,” said North Texas head coach Seth Littrell. “I just think [UTSA] fought hard and found ways to make plays on both sides, and we came up short of it.”
The final stats reflect as much. UTSA dominated the time of possession 38:30 to 21:40 and amassed over 100 additional total yards—495 to 347—but with 98 seconds left to play they needed a 7-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to claim the win.
“Tough teams win championships . . . and we are tough,” remarked UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor.
Both teams displayed that toughness. North Texas did what very few teams have been able to do all season—contain quarterback Frank Harris and UTSA’s triple threat receiving options in Zakhari Franklin, “JT” Clark, and Joshua Cephus. Harris was picked off by Ridge Texada on the first passing attempt and the Mean Green were immediately able to capitalize with a field goal. By halftime, UTSA only had 89 yards passing and were relying more on the running game to compensate. Running back Brendan Brady ended up having his best game of the season, running for 112 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns, Kevorian Barnes chipped in 54 yards on 10 carries, and Harris scrambled for 103 yards when the passing attack wasn’t available.
Meanwhile, UTSA’s run defense stepped up to contain North Texas’s running game, holding the Mean Green to just 22 yards on the ground and eliminating running backs Oscar Adaway, Ikaika Ragsdale, and Ayo Adeyi as scoring threats. But North Texas picked a part UTSA’s secondary. Quarterback Austin Aune passed for 325 yards and three touchdowns and wide receivers Roderic Burns and Var’Keyes Gumms combined for nine catches for 231 yards and a touchdown. Aune was particularly dangerous with the deep ball, connecting on five passes longer than 20 yards. He could not connect with Jayaire Shorter, who finished the game with only one catch for 58 yards, but Aune made the Roadrunners pay frequently whenever they rushed the blitz.
“We responded in a good way . . . . Both teams responded. I was proud of the fact that we responded, especially the last couple of drives,” said Littrell.
“Coach gave us a speech and we were all . . . turned up [regarding the game],” remarked UTSA tight end Oscar Cardenas.
UTSA’s defense also forced a turnover when Corey Mayfield intercepted Aune on UNT’s first drive of the second half and sacked Aune two times, while North Texas was able to sack Harris four times. But once the fourth quarter started it was clear that the teams would need to outscore, rather than contain, each other to win the game.
Indeed, in the final six minutes of the game the Roadrunners and Mean Green traded the lead three times, all on touchdown scores. UTSA’s special teams blocked a punt to give the Roadrunners excellent field position and scored after a strong 22-yard run from Brady and a six-yard touchdown catch by Cephus. North Texas then took 50 seconds to retake the lead after Gumms caught a 46-yard pass and Isaiah Johnson carried a one-yard pass into the endzone.
With 98 seconds remaining UTSA had one final opportunity to respond and no time outs to use. After converting on fourth down at midfield, Harris connected with Cardenas for 33 yards and then found JT Clark in the corner of the endzone to take the lead. With 15 seconds left, UTSA kicked off and recovered a squid kick to seal the win. Oddly enough, the drive was reminiscent of a similar drive North Texas pulled off in 2017 to seal their own win against UTSA.
SENSATIONAL SEQUENCE FROM UTSA!— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) October 22, 2022
Incredible catches by Cardenas and Clark send the Alamodome into pandemonium! @UTSAFTBL | #CUSAFB pic.twitter.com/ZPuTUZ2tTK
“[O]ur special teams was the key . . .blocked punt, we recovered the squid kick, [and] we kicked away to prevent a great return the whole night,” said Traylor, believing the hidden yardage made the difference.
“It was a tough way to lose . . . they are all tough,” explained Littrell after the game. “We just have to eliminate a couple of mistakes that we had that hurt us. [We] had our shots in the second half.”
In the end, with UTSA and North Texas both heading to the AAC next year expect these teams to continue to produce memorable games as the rivalry continues.
UNT travels to Western Kentucky on Saturday, October 29 @ 2:30 PM CT.
UTSA is on bye.