San Antonio welcomed over 37,000 fans to the Alamodome on Saturday afternoon who were treated to an absolute thriller of a football game. Both Houston and UTSA have high expectations for their 2022 seasons and they both demonstrated why those expectations are warranted. The Cougars ultimately prevailed 37-35 over the Roadrunners, but it took three overtime periods to accomplish and both teams showed that they are still contenders for their respective conference titles.
Even so, neither team is likely satisfied with the game’s outcome. Houston controlled the time of possession 35:27 to 24:33 and converted over 50 % of its third-down attempts but needed a strong fourth quarter rally and timely UTSA mistakes to overcome a 14-point deficit to tie the game. UTSA shut down Houston’s offense and had momentum to close out the game with a win, but committed ill-timed penalties and could not contain quarterback Clayton Tune in the pocket. Both teams can make improvements but also showed enough to give their fans excitement for the rest of the season.
The first quarter started slow. The Roadrunners and Cougars went 3-and-out to open and from there it was primarily penalties and mistakes. Houston’s punt return TD was called back for a block in the back and Clayton Tune fumbled during a quarterback scramble. However, UTSA could not capitalize on the turnover and committed its own penalties that stalled offensive drives.
The first points came in the second quarter when Tune connected with Nathaniel “Tank” Dell Jr for a touchdown, and it seemed like the Cougars had finally found their rhythm. But UTSA’s defense tightened up and denied Houston any further scoring opportunities in the first half. Meanwhile, quarterback Frank Harris began his own offensive campaign. He first connected with wide receiver Joshua Cephus for a 51-yard touchdown and then scrambled 38 yards on UTSA’s next possession to score a second touchdown. The Roadrunners then pinned the Cougars inside the one-yard line and prevented Houston from scoring before the half.
The third quarter saw UTSA add to its lead when Harris connected with De’Corian Clark for a 15-yard touchdown. Meanwhile, UTSA’s defense continued to contain Tune and the Houston offense, sacking Tune four times and holding the Cougars to just five yards.
The Roadrunners seemed poised to maintain momentum and even stopped Houston on a fourth down conversion attempt. But a penalty for illegal substitution cost UTSA the play. From there, it was all Houston. The Cougars took advantage marching downfield, converting on third down twice, and draining over four minutes of clock before Tune connected with Dell a second time for a touchdown score.
UTSA still led 21-14 to start the fourth quarter and began driving downfield again before Houston tipped a pass and intercepted Harris to regain possession. It took only one play for Houston to tie the game when Tune connected with Joseph Manjack IV in the endzone.
On their next possession, the Cougars methodically cut apart UTSA’s defense when they marched downfield in 18 plays, taking off over ten minutes of time off the clock, and retook the lead with a 35-yard field goal and leaving UTSA with only 23 seconds to respond.
The Roadrunners did respond with two quick passes down the middle and set up Jared Sackett to kick a 37-yard field goal to tie and send the game to overtime.
In overtime, both teams traded field goals and then touchdowns. Then, during the third overtime Clayton Tune escaped pressure and dove into the end zone to put the Cougars on top 37-35. Harris could not connect on his own pass and Houston prevailed. Final score: Houston 37, UTSA 35.
Surprisingly, the close score was not the only thing that showed how similarly Houston and UTSA played. This game was a battle between Tune and Harris on which quarterback could pull their team to victory. On at least three occasions both teams dropped clean passes—uncharacteristic given their talent—and both teams’ defenses sacked or pressured Harris and Tune frequently. The lone turnovers for both teams also came from Tune and Harris after the defense got into the backfield; Tune fumbled while Harris was intercepted. And both Tune and Harris kept plays alive or outright scored after scrambling out of the pocket. It was almost fitting that this game would go to overtime given the performance.
In the end, Houston did enough down the stretch to win the game. Clayton Tune finished with 206 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 turnover, while Frank Harris finished with 337 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 turnover. Houston and UTSA will need their quarterbacks to continue playing at a high level if they are to compete for their respective championships.
No. 24 Houston travels to Lubbock to play Texas Tech on Saturday, September 10 at 3:00 PM CT.
UTSA travels to West Point to play Army on Saturday, September 10 at 11:00 AM CT.