The University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners, winners of the Conference USA West Division, will play in their first conference championship game in school history, facing the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, winners of the East Division. It’s a rematch of an Oct. 9 game UTSA won in a 52-46 shootout, giving the Roadrunners the right to host the championship game. Thanks to a local fundraising effort, all UTSA students will be able to attend the game free of charge, and the crowd could set a Roadrunners attendance record.
UTSA Roadrunners (11-1, 7-1 conference) vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (8-4, 7-1):
Kickoff: 6 p.m.
How to watch: CBS Sports Network
UTSA suffered its first loss of the season, falling 45-23 to the University of North Texas in Denton as three early fumbles and foul weather put an end to their dreams of a perfect regular season.
After losing to UTSA in Bowling Green, Western Kentucky has won seven straight games, including a 53-21 victory last week over Marshall to punch a ticket to the C-USA title game.
Linebacker Clarence Hicks intercepted a pass at the 3-yard line in the game’s final minute to preserve UTSA’s 52-46 victory over the Hilltoppers in Bowling Green on Oct. 9. Frank Harris threw for six touchdown passes in the game and made a TD catch to lead the Roadrunners. The game featured six lead changes until UTSA pulled ahead for good in the third quarter.
What they’re saying:
UTSA Head Coach Jeff Traylor: “They’ve [the Hilltoppers] continued to get better. It starts with their offense. They’re very good at quarterback and receiver. … They gave [quarterback Bailey Zappe] total control of the offense. Whoever has the chalk last always wins.”
Western Kentucky Head Coach Tyson Helton: “I really felt like we could’ve won and should’ve won that football game [against UTSA Oct. 9]. … It’s a great opportunity to play UTSA again. You don’t see that a lot where you get that same matchup again. It’s going to make for an exciting game, for sure.”
UTSA has won its last nine games at the Alamodome. The Roadrunners have relied on their defense throughout the season to get them to where they are now. UTSA has held opponents to 121.6 rushing yards per game and forced 22 turnovers, converting five into touchdowns. The Roadrunners’ five defensive touchdowns are tied for fourth in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
During their seven-game winning streak, the Hilltoppers are averaging 43.2 points per game and 524.7 yards per game. WKU’s passing offense leads the nation with 424.8 yards per game and 53 touchdowns through the air. The Hilltoppers have forced 27 turnovers this season. Western Kentucky has won both conference championships in which it has played, winning in 2015 and 2016, and would be the first C-USA team to win three titles.
Players to watch:
UTSA will need running back Sincere McCormick, the nation’s eighth leading rusher, to control the tempo and keep the ball in UTSA’s hands. McCormick has rushed for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. The last time UTSA faced WKU, quarterback Frank Harris had a career game, posting 423 total yards, and completing 28 of 38 passes for 349 yards and six touchdown passes. He also ran for 51 yards and caught a 23-yard touchdown. Harris has three receivers — Zakhari Franklin, Joshua Cephus, and De’Corian Clark — who have combined to make 175 catches and scored 21 touchdowns.
At the center of WKU’s potent offense is fifth-year quarterback Bailey Zappe, who leads the nation in touchdowns and passing yards by a wide margin with 4,993. Zappe’s favorite target is wide receiver Jerreth Sterns, who is second in the nation in receiving yards with 1,529 on 127 catches, 12 for touchdowns. Both are transfers from Houston Baptist University and native Texans.