The UTSA Roadrunners and North Texas Mean Green are headed to the American Athletic Conference in 2023. They leave behind a Conference USA that helped build both programs to where they are now, one that has helped springboard their rise in the Group of Five. And on Friday night 41,412 fans were treated to the culmination of that success, ending with a convincing UTSA victory to claim their second conference title in as many years.
Despite an unprecedented number or injuries, UTSA put together arguably its most complete game of the season to close out 2022. Lead by quarterback Frank Harris, who was named MVP, the Roadrunners won behind 571 total yards, balanced well between 344 yards passing and 227 yards rushing, and closed out the game on a 14-0 run in the fourth quarter to prevent any UNT comeback.
“I told [our players] all week their best football was coming. I felt it. They are unbelievable kids . . . [and] played their best the entire season tonight. We were unbelievable throwing the ball, running the ball, tackling the ball, defending the pass, kicking, punting. [It] was almost the perfect game,” said head coach Jeff Traylor after the game.
The stats back it up. Harris completed 32 of 37 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns, ran the ball 16 times for 71 yards and one touchdown, and committed no turnovers. Freshman running back Kevorian Barnes, who got his first career start, rushed 28 times for 175 yards and one touchdown while senior wide receiver Zakhari Franklin caught 10 passes for 144 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Roadrunners defense forced two turnovers—interceptions by senior safety Clifford Chattman, his fourth in as many games, and junior safety Ken Robinson—and held the Mean Green to 366 yards and only two third-down conversions.
“This season will be special to me for many, many reasons with the adversity [the] team has overcome,” Traylor explained.
But North Texas did not make it easy. The Mean Green took a 10-7 advantage early in the game, stopped UTSA from scoring on the one-yard line, and roared back to within 1 possession in the fourth quarter before the Roadrunners pulled away.
“I am proud of our guys . . . how hard they worked [and] the culture they have built,” remarked North Texas head coach Seth Littrell. “We didn’t play as good as we needed to win the game . . . [but] we have one more opportunity to play together . . . and we are excited for that opportunity.”
North Texas ran the ball effectively in a much better showing than the previous matchup, with sophomore running back Ikaika Ragsdale leading the charge. Ragsdale ran 17 times for 108 yards and one touchdown, including a 56-yard rush out of the UNT end zone to set the Mean Green up in scoring position.
Quarterback Austin Aune led the offense with 194 yards passing on 14 competitions, avoided multiple sacks, and threw one touchdown in a play-of-the-game highlight. Aune connected with junior wide receiver Jyaire Shorter on a 36-yard pass into the end zone, with Shorter not only catching the ball while falling but doing so despite UTSA committing pass interference.
But it was not enough to overcome UTSA’s offense. The Mean Green gave up a last-second touchdown in the first half and, despite gaining significant momentum by closing the gap to just seven points heading into the fourth quarter, ultimately could not stop Harris and the Roadrunner offense from scoring. After a UTSA touchdown was called back for a penalty, Harris connected with Franklin on the very next play for a 39-yard touchdown that allowed the Roadrunners to pull away.
“It was back and forth there for a while [but we] have to play a complete game in all three phases to win the game,” Littrell explained.
“This team is built to last,” stated Traylor. “They just know how to win.”
Indeed, the Roadrunners know how to win. UTSA is 22-4 since 2021, which includes a 15-1 conference records, and have won back-to-back championships. UTSA could also return a significant portion of their talent for their first year in the American. But these last two years will likely remain special.
“It’s been a dream,” Traylor remarked.
Next year will be different. But it is clear enough that both UTSA and North Texas have the talent and the drive to compete in the AAC, and should continue to provide fans entertaining and exciting matchups for years to come.