Tuesday, April 23, 2024

UTSA Football, Soccer revel in C-USA titles with eyes toward 2023

UTSA Football, Soccer revel in C-USA titles with eyes toward 2023

DECEMBER 30, 2022 — As the student-athletes looked out from their Riverwalk cruise boats to bask in the cheers of the Arneson River Theater crowd—much like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili had in cherished decades past—it was impossible to deny San Antonio’s widespread embrace of the Roadrunners.

Fans decked out in orange and blue packed the Rowdy River Rally on December 7 to celebrate the conference championship journeys of UTSA’s football and soccer teams.

In November, UTSA Soccer made a stunning surge through the Conference USA Tournament to capture its first league title and NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010 when it was a member of the Southland Conference. A month later, UTSA Football capped an incredible 10-game winning streak with a 48-27 victory over rival North Texas to earn its second consecutive Conference USA championship trophy.

UTSA fans packed the Arneson River Theater (middle) for the Rowdy River Rally on December 7 to celebrate the Conference USA championships won by UTSA Football (left) and UTSA Soccer (right).

Those in attendance heard from UTSA First Lady Peggy Eighmy, UTSA Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Lisa Campos and two of Campos’ most noteworthy hires at the university: Football Head Coach Jeff Traylor and Soccer Head Coach Derek Pittman. They all came to the same conclusion: The bond between the 210 and UTSA was stronger than ever. Each thanked San Antonio for its growing support of Roadrunners Athletics and reflected on the swift success of both programs.

“They imagined winning championships and they get it done,” Campos said of Traylor and Pittman. She then turned her focus to the future with dreams of more wins, more accomplishments and more meaningful moments. “The journey is just starting. We’re moving to the American Athletic Conference next year, and I’m so proud to have all of you come on the journey with us.”

As Roadrunner Nation excitedly looks forward to the university’s first season in the American Athletic Conference, UTSA Today is taking one final look back at these two remarkable championship runs that are giving UTSA sports fans plenty of optimism heading into 2023.

The UTSA Soccer team celebrates after a big win at the Conference USA Tournament in Charlotte in November.

Five days in Charlotte

In many ways, 2022 felt like a sea change for UTSA Soccer. The Roadrunners were attracting larger crowds than ever to the Park West Athletics Complex, where they went 5-1-1 in home games. They were also hanging tough with major conference competition—even pulling off a win over Kansas State out of the Big 12 Conference.

UTSA finished with a 9-5-4 regular season record and headed to the Conference USA Tournament in Charlotte, N.C., as the No. 6 seed. Despite the Roadrunners’ success, top seeds Rice and North Texas were still considered the overwhelming favorites to take home the conference championship. But Pittman and his team knew that the gap between the No. 1 and No. 6 seeds wasn’t as wide as everyone believed.

The Roadrunners immediately proved they belonged in their quarterfinal game, taking down No. 3 UAB by the score of 1-0. UTSA stymied the Blazers’ offensive attack all afternoon. Goalkeeper Mia Krusinski notched five saves in the contest and Anna Sutter scored the thrilling game-winner in the match’s 108th minute.

What UTSA did in the semifinal round, however, really turned some heads. No. 2 North Texas had emerged as the clear favorite after beating Western Kentucky 5-1 in the quarterfinals, but the Roadrunners were not intimidated. UTSA blitzed the Mean Green with two first-half goals by Jordan Walker and Kendall Kloza in a 2-1 victory to send the Roadrunners to the conference championship game.

No. 5 Florida Atlantic constantly challenged UTSA in the tournament final, but four saves by Krusinski and a big-time effort from Marlee Fray powered the Roadrunners to a 3-2 overtime win. Fray scored the contest’s first goal as well as the game-winning header in the first overtime period. The Owls fired off seven shots in the second overtime period, but just as they had so often during the regular season, the Roadrunners held their ground to earn the trophy.

In addition to winning the conference championship, four Roadrunners earned individual tournament awards. Sutter was named the Offensive MVP and Kloza was named the Defensive MVP. Fray and Krusinski were also named to the All-Tournament Team.

The Roadrunners ended the 2022 campaign with 12 wins, which was the second-most in program history. Overall, it was a season and a magical tournament run that will be paramount for UTSA Soccer for years to come.

“The 2022 season is one for the history books and something to continue building on as we move into the American Athletic Conference next year,” Pittman said.

During the trophy presentation after the Conference USA Championship Game in December, UTSA head football coach Jeff Traylor started a "One More Year!" chant as quarterback Frank Harris was named the game's MVP. Coach got his wish: Harris announced the following week that he would return for one final season in 2023.

A suspenseful, surreal season

Let’s be real. UTSA Football made a habit out of giving its fans shaky extremities, chewed-up fingernails and even a few stomach aches in 2022. Half of UTSA’s 14 games were decided by a margin of six points or less, and three of those contests were decided in overtime. The journey to an 11-3 record and back-to-back conference championships was, in all honesty, an incredibly anxious one.

But it was also wildly entertaining and absolutely unforgettable.

The high drama came immediately. UTSA opened the season with back-to-back overtime games against No. 24 Houston and Army. Despite outgaining Houston by nearly 100 total yards, UTSA fell to the Cougars 37-35 in a triple-overtime thriller that was widely considered one of 2022’s best college football games in front of 37,526 fans at the Alamodome. The Roadrunners bounced back in another instant classic the following week at West Point, N.Y., coming back from a 28-14 deficit in the third quarter to beat Army 41-38 in overtime. Quarterback Frank Harris turned in a phenomenal performance, throwing for 359 yards and three touchdowns—including the game-winner to wide receiver De’Corian Clark.

UTSA would finish its non-conference schedule with a 2-2 record after a hard-fought loss at No. 20 Texas and a blowout victory against Texas Southern, but the Roadrunners knew they were more than capable of running the table to host the Conference USA Championship Game for the second straight season. They got off on the right foot in C-USA competition with a 45-30 road win over a stingy Middle Tennessee team. Harris once again worked wonders, scoring five total touchdowns and accounting for 445 yards of offense in the game.

The Roadrunners hosted Western Kentucky the following Saturday in a rematch of the 2021 C-USA Championship Game. Much like that contest, this one was tight throughout before UTSA eventually emerged victorious—notching a 31-28 win. UTSA then pushed its winning streak to four with a comfortable 30-10 victory over FIU on a Friday night in Miami.

This would set up a battle between the only remaining undefeated teams in conference competition: UTSA vs. North Texas on October 22 at the Alamodome. Traylor and Campos took every opportunity possible to encourage San Antonio to #PackTheDome in advance of the critical C-USA showdown. The 27,122 fans in attendance were not disappointed. The back-and-forth game lived up to the hype, especially in the fourth quarter when the teams scored a total of five touchdowns—each one more crucial than the one before it. Ultimately, none were more important than Clark’s gorgeous 10-yard catch in the end zone with 15 seconds left in the game, sending the Alamodome crowd into total delirium. Final: UTSA 31, North Texas 27.

With everyone chasing them in the C-USA standings, the Roadrunners hoped to finish strong with four wins in November. In typical UTSA fashion, the team won two resounding routs bookended by games that challenged every Roadrunner loyalist’s heart rate. The first was another overtime game—this one on the road at UAB. Running back Kevorian Barnes and wide receiver Zakhari Franklin combined for three touchdowns and the defense put together a tremendous defensive stand in the second overtime period to finally oust the Blazers by the score of 44-38.

UTSA fans breathed a lot easier the next two weeks. The Roadrunners dominated Louisiana Tech 51-7 at the Alamodome, and then clobbered Rice 41-7 on a cold, rainy day in Houston.

At 7-0 in conference play, the Roadrunners had already earned the right to host the C-USA Championship Game, but a Senior Day tilt against UTEP remained. The Miners leapt out to a 24-0 lead, leaving the Alamodome crowd absolutely flabbergasted. A Harris touchdown pass got them interested again, and an exhilirating Dadrian Taylor interception return for a touchdown had them believing. UTSA’s resurgence featured touchdown passes to Franklin and Tykee Ogle-Kellogg and was punctuated by a Jared Sackett field goal as time expired. UTSA won 34-31, marking the biggest comeback in program history.

Those kinds of heroics weren’t necessary the following week as UTSA braced for a rematch with North Texas in the 2022 Conference USA Championship Game. Harris, Franklin and Barnes saved their best performances of the season for this one as UTSA racked up 571 total yards and defeated the Mean Green 48-27 before an electric gathering of 41,412 at the Alamodome. The Roadrunners shelved the drama for the third-largest crowd for a UTSA game ever, leading for 55 of the game’s 60 minutes.

“Huge shout-out to the city of San Antonio,” Traylor said after the game. “They were incredible tonight. It was a blast. It was fun. It felt like a championship game.”

Moments later, Harris would flash a smile and lighten up the professional mood at the postgame press conference: “What can I say?” he said. “We’re back-to-back champs.”

For their efforts, Harris was named Conference USA’s Most Valuable Player, Barnes was named C-USA Freshman of the Year and Traylor earned C-USA Coach of the Year honors for the second year in a row. Despite a narrow defeat against No. 23 Troy in the Duluth Trading Cure Bowl, more good news came for UTSA Football in December: Harris announced that he’ll return for one final season in 2023. Now, the American Athletic Conference will get to see what the Roadrunners are all about—and the most decorated player in program history will still be taking the snaps.

Shea Conner

UTSA Today is produced by University Strategic Communications,
the official news source
of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

Send your feedback to news@utsa.edu.

UTSA Today is produced by University Communications and Marketing, the official news source of The University of Texas at San Antonio. Send your feedback to news@utsa.edu. Keep up-to-date on UTSA news by visiting UTSA Today. Connect with UTSA online at Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram.



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