With three seconds to play, tight end Oscar Cardenas caught a 1-yard pass from Frank Harris in the end zone Saturday to lift the University of Texas at San Antonio to a 34-31 victory over the University of Alabama-Birmingham and clinch the Conference USA West championship for the Roadrunners.
The winning play came after Harris gathered in a bobbled snap and lobbed a pass that was tipped by a UAB defender in the end zone before Cardenas came down with it, capping a 77-yard drive.
The Roadrunners’ undefeated season appeared in danger after UAB running back Wayne McBride’s 16-yard scoring run gave the Blazers a 31-27 lead with 5:19 left in the game. UTSA’s ensuing drive ended when an apparent reception by Zakhari Franklin was ruled incomplete and Franklin’s catch on fourth-and-10 was short of a first down with less than 2 minutes to play.
After UAB elected to punt, the Roadrunners (11-0 overall, 7-0 in Conference USA) got the ball back with 1:06 left but had no timeouts. Harris connected on passes to Cardenas and De’Corian Clark to keep the drive going before Harris ran up the middle for 9 yards to the 1-yard line, setting up the decisive play.
“It’s just a testimony to those guys [the UTSA offense],” Harris said about the final drive. “Each and every day we go out and practice. … You know practice makes permanent, and we work those [situations] all the time and we finally got to display it in a game.”
With the win, the Roadrunners secured the top spot in Conference USA West and will host the conference championship game Dec. 3 at the Alamodome.
UTSA Head Coach Jeff Traylor became emotional in his post-game press conference as he discussed winning the division championship in front of a raucous crowd of 35,147.
“There’s so many people who have invested a lot in me,” he said. “Personally, I wanted to do it for the city and the people who have been so good to us since we’ve been here. … It means a lot, it really does. The crowd showed up and they were fantastic. … This city is on fire right now. I feel for the team that’s gotta to come in here in a couple of weeks. I know the Alamodome will be rocking.”
The game drew the largest crowd of the season to watch Harris complete 25 of 36 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns. Clark finished with six catches for 104 yards while Zakhari Franklin had six receptions for 97 yards.
UAB shut down the Roadrunners’ ground game, limiting UTSA to net 52 yards rushing and holding running back Sincere McCormick to just 65 yards on 20 carries.
“We’re not a perfect team,” Traylor said. “We have our fleas. But here’s something that’s never, ever wrong with my team: They never go away.”
The Blazers (7-4, 5-2) took a 24-17 halftime lead on the strength of its dominating defense, but UTSA’s defense set the tone in the second half, and the Roadrunners took their first lead of the game, 27-24, with 1:57 left in the third quarter on Hunter Duplessis’ 49-yard field goal.
But a fourth-quarter fumble by Harris proved costly, forcing a punt that gave UAB a short field. The Blazers drove 44 yards to regain the lead on McBride’s scoring run.
McBride finished with 144 yards on 24 carries for UAB. Tre Shropshire caught three passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns, including a 74-yard pass from quarterback Dylan Hopkins that capped the game’s opening drive and gave the Blazers a 7-0 lead.
“What a phenomenal effort by our guys,” UAB Head Coach Bill Clark said. “I’m so proud of them. I just hate it, because, you know, we had it there at the end and I knew they weren’t going to quit.”
UTSA will travel to Denton next week to play its final regular season game against the University of North Texas (4-6, 3-3). Kickoff is set for Saturday, Nov. 27, at 1 p.m.