Players sing the Alma Mater after their 55-33 victory over Southern Mississippi. The win was a morale booster for the Roadrunners after their rough 1-3 start to the season. Photos by David Guel

On Saturday, Oct. 8, the Roadrunners upset Southern Mississippi (USM) in a statement game, winning 55-32. USM’s defense failed to stop the Roadrunner’s rush offense, allowing 339 rushing yards on 35 attempts. The Roadrunners were led by starting running backs Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes.

Before Saturday morning’s game, the Roadrunners had faced stiff competition. After losses to Colorado State, Arizona State and a road loss to Conference USA (C-USA) foe Old Dominion (4-2, 2-0 C-USA), many were wondering if Head Coach Frank Wilson and his roster were in the midst of a losing season.

Their second conference opponent, USM (4-2, 2-1 C-USA), came into the game as a 17-point favorite and were no slouches either. Prior to the meeting, the Golden Eagles were 4-1 and were first in numerous C-USA’s statistical categories.

Nevertheless, the Roadrunners stayed optimistic and dominated 55-32. Wilson’s first victory against a conference opponent as head coach was not only headlined with numerous records, but also a statement victory that all of C-USA noticed.

“It’s significant because it’s our first win and because we needed something positive to get out of this three-game skid,” Wilson said. “I thought today was a huge step in our program.”

Throughout the first four games of the season, starting running backs Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes totaled 350 rushing yards on an average of 3.6 yards per carry. The duo finished Saturday’s game with 299 rushing yards on nearly 10 yards per carry. Williams and Rhodes also combined to score five of the team’s seven touchdowns.

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“We’re a team…those are our brothers,” Rhodes said. “It takes a while for the offense to gel together, so I think we just came alive.”

While the defense did surrender 35 points, the Golden Eagles were held nine points under their scoring average and were already down by three touchdowns before their first score. Senior safety Nate Gaines and redshirt freshman linebacker Josiah Tauaefa led UTSA’s defense with tackling totals of 12 and 10.

“Southern Miss was leading many categories in the conference, and that was the challenge for us to stop them,” Gaines said.

UTSA started the game with four straight scores on offense. The first was a 77-yard third-down pass from junior quarterback Dalton Sturm to junior receiver Kerry Thomas Jr.

After the defense forced a three-and-out on USM’s first offensive drive, Sturm completed another long pass to junior receiver Josh Stewart for 75 yards, immediately followed by Williams’ first running touchdown of the day.

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With nearly eight minutes elapsed, UTSA went up 21 points as Rhodes scored the game’s third touchdown. With 7:15 left in the first quarter, USM had plenty of time to come back.

The Golden Eagles finally scored on their fourth drive as senior USM quarterback Nick Mullens began to move the ball, ending the drive on a 17-yard pass to sophomore tight end Jay’Shawn Washington.

UTSA and USM began to trade scores as the Roadrunners ended the first quarter with a 6-yard touchdown run by Williams.

The Eagles scored again early in the second quarter, this time with a 10-play, 79-yard drive capped off with a one-yard rushing touchdown from junior running back Ito Smith.

Not wanting to be out-done by Smith, Rhodes and his offensive line responded with an 80-yard touchdown run that once again put the Roadrunners up by three possessions.

In just two quarters, UTSA surpassed their season single-game scoring total of 28, which was from the game against Arizona State earlier this season. After a second touchdown pass from Mullens to senior USM receiver D.J Thompson, sophomore UTSA kicker Victor Falcon made a career-long 45-yard field goal to close out the half with UTSA leading 38-21.

Although they were up by 17 points, USM has previously shown their ability to come back and win games. In their first game of the season against SEC opponent Kentucky, the Eagles defeated the Wildcats 44-35 after trailing 28-7 in the second quarter.

That situation would not be the case, however, as UTSA continued to play with purpose, scoring 17 more points in relation to USM’s 11.

After a 20-yard reverse touchdown run by Matt Guidry, the Roadrunners continued to run the ball and prevent USM from scoring, allowing only one touchdown in the half: a late fourth-quarter touchdown run by sophomore Chase Whitehead.

Down by 16 with 3:28 left in the game, the Eagles had a chance to cut the lead to only one possession, but Tauaefa ended the game with a game-clinching interception.

UTSA ended with an exclamation point as Williams broke his single-play rushing record with a 93-yard run and Rhodes’ third rushing touchdown of the day.

With such a dominant victory on both sides of the ball, many fans have to point to the patience of the team coming together. In the post-game interview, Coach Wilson explained how they continued to stay optimistic after losing three straight games.

“We didn’t have a choice,” Wilson said. “We were determined to find a way. This team was going to require our best, and they got our best effort.”

UTSA will continue their conference play on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. in Houston, Texas as they play a winless Rice team. Their next home game is the homecoming game against UTEP (1-5, 0-3 C-USA) at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22.

 

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