Roadrunners snap four-game losing streak

It’s finally over. The Roadrunners (6-4) snapped their four-game losing streak by defeating the McNeese State Cowboys 31-24 in the Alamodome on Saturday, Nov. 10. Starting quarterback Eric Soza finished the game with 262 passing yards, two touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown in front of 25,784 fans. Soza also completed a season-high 24 passes to 12 different receivers and completed 24 passes out of 37 passing attempts.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a tougher group of guys,” Head Coach Larry Coker said. “Our offense, defense and special teams were great today and that’s the reason why we won.”

“At the end of the season, every team is going to have guys that are banged up. But I guarantee that nobody plays as hard as my guys do,” UTSA center Nate Leonard said.

Early in the game, McNeese State’s offense easily powered through the UTSA defense. At the 9:38 mark, Cowboys receiver Wes Briscoe snatched a 12-yard pass from quarterback Cody Stroud in the back of the endzone, and the Cowboys grabbed an early 7-0 lead.

UTSA was held scoreless in the opening quarter. Soza was constantly under pressure from McNeese’s defense and the Roadrunners offense was not able to respond. Soza passed for only 25 yards in the first quarter compared to Stroud’s 86 yards on the way to a Cowboys early lead.

In the second quarter, UTSA started to fight back. In the last three minutes of the half, Soza led the ‘Runners into the McNeese State redzone. UTSA running back Evans Okotcha sprinted across the Alamodome turf, and grabbed a pass from Soza

With McNeese defenders inches behind him, Okotcha dove and extended the ball just past the goal line for the ‘Runners first touchdown. The game  became tied at 7-7.

The Cowboys controlled the ball for the rest of the half, but the ‘Runners defense increased their intensity. Stroud was uncomfortable in the pocket looking for open Cowboy receivers. McNeese could only score a 36-yard field goal from kicker Josh Lewis to reclaim the lead 10-7 by the end of the half. 

“Our offensive coordinator, Kevin Brown, was really upset with us. He thought we left a lot on the field in the first half,” Okotcha said. “He demanded that we come out with fire.”

The ‘Runners answered Brown’s challenge with 24 unanswered points in the second half. UTSA’s offense looked completely different from their struggling performance in the first half. Soza’s offensive linemen gave him time to make the right passes and everything started to click.

Wide receiver Brandon Freeman gave the Roadrunner fans reason to cheer when he sprinted past the Cowboys defense and grabbed a 23-yard pass while diving out of bounds and ten yards deep into the Cowboys redzone.  Two plays later, Soza rolled out to the right looking for an open UTSA receiver in the endzone. Soza tucked the ball into his body and sprinted towards the endzone, where he met two Cowboys defenders diving towards his legs. Soza flipped over the defenders and landed in the endzone for the ‘Runners second touchdown of the day, and at 14-10, UTSA led with 8:51 left in the quarter. 

“We all sacrifice our bodies for the better of the team. That was my way of doing it,” Soza said. “We needed a touchdown, and I tried to do whatever I could to get into the endzone.”

After stopping the Cowboys offense again, UTSA’s offense stormed through McNeese’s defense. With just 3:43 left in the half, Okotcha smashed nine yards through more Cowboys trying to stop him, and scored his second touchdown of the day. The ‘Runners increased their lead to 21-10.

McNeese’s offense was stopped again when junior safety Cody Berry ripped the football out of Cowboys running back Marcus Wiltz hands.  Safety Tristen Wade recovered the fumbled ball to reclaim possession for the ‘Runners. UTSA went into the final quarter with their 21-10 lead over McNeese.

On UTSA’s second possession of the final quarter, Soza fired a screen pass to wide receiver Brandon Armstrong. Armstrong bolted through the Cowboys defense 31 yards into the endzone for his first career touchdown and a 28-10 lead over McNeese.

The Cowboys looked desperate to find some kind of energy on offense but they were stopped again when ‘Runners cornerback Crosby Adams intercepted Stroud’s deep pass into UTSA territory. The ‘Runners turned the interception into a 38-yard Kristian Stern field goal, and put UTSA up 31-10 with 9:55 left in the game.

A 21-point lead had all the Roadrunners and their fans smiling, but the Cowboys were not conceding to a UTSA victory yet. McNeese’s offense suddenly found holes in the UTSA defense that had shut them down for most of the second half. Stroud led the Cowboys offense on a last ditch effort to win the game, and it almost worked.

McNeese scored 14 uncontested points in the final quarter. The first score came when Stroud found fullback Dylan Long in the UTSA endzone, making the score 31-17 with 6:18 left in the game.

On their next offensive drive Stroud completed five consecutive first down passes, and the Cowboys were once again a few yards away from the endzone. Wiltz sprinted through the ‘Runners defense for a three-yard touchdown with 3:05 left in the game.

McNeese was only trailing by one touchdown as the scoreboard displayed a 24-31 UTSA lead. However, time was not on the Cowboys side and the ‘Runners were able to run out the clock to escape with the victory.

Okotcha had a complete offensive game and led the team with 55 rushing yards, 37 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Senior linebacker Brandon Reeves led all defenders with a career-high 13 tackles in the game. He credits the team’s improved second-half performance to the team’s comradiere.

“Our main thing was to stick together,” said Reeves. “We had to go out and play with emotion.”

UTSA will finish the road portion of the schedule against WAC teams when they travel to Idaho for the last away game on Nov. 18.

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