Roadrunners come up short against Louisiana Ragin Cajuns in First Responder Bowl
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UTSA is still trying to beat a ranked team. UTSA is now 0-2 all-time in bowl games. They certainly came close to pulling off both feats with a second half comeback but ultimately the #16 Louisiana Ragin Cajuns made the plays they needed to to come away with a 31-24 victory.
The Roadrunners made the trip to Dallas without Head Coach Jeff Traylor. On Wednesday Traylor tested positive for COVID and had to remain in San Antonio. UTSA turned to Offensive Coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. to handle the reins of acting head coach.
“There was a lot of motiviation today,” Lunney said. “It’s hard for me to put in measurables what we missed with not having (Coach Traylor) here. I thought our coaches across the board stepped up and the players responded to that.”
For the second time in 2020 the Roadrunners took on a ranked opponent and gave that ranked opponent all they could handle before falling a touchdown short. The losses to BYU and Louisiana will serve as learning experience for the Roadrunners going into 2021.
“I feel like next season we’ll be able to come out of those close games with a win,” Rashad Wisdom said.
Louisiana entered the game with a 9-1 record and co-champions of the Sun Belt. Among their wins in 2020 had been an upset over ranked Iowa State. The Roadrunners got off to a slow start but they hung around with the Ragin Cajuns and had their chances to turn the fortunes of the game around.
The Roadrunners actually outgained the Cajuns 431 yards to 411. Frank Harris finished the bowl with 208 yards passing and 91 yards rushing. Harris accounted for all three of the Roadrunner touchdowns, two through the air and one on the ground.
“We didn’t come out on the winning end,” Harris said. “It’s disappointing.”
Sincere McCormick ran the ball 23 times for 122 yards. McCormick set a program record with his seventh 100-yard game of the season and moved past Jarveon Williams into the all-time career lead for rushing yards by a Roadrunner.
UTSA found themselves down by 17 points early in the third quarter but the Roadrunners didn’t give in and found a way to fight back to tie the score at 24 early in the fourth quarter.
“We are proud of them, I know Coach Traylor is proud of them,” Lunney said. “It could have easily gotten out of hand when it got to 24-7. Our defense rose up and got a turnover that switched the tide of the game. We just couldn’t finish the game.”
The Cajuns though showed the Roadrunners that they still had some distance to travel before they can defeat a ranked opponent. Louisiana scored the winning touchdown halfway through the fourth quarter and then clamped down on the Roadrunners offense the rest of the way.
Things seemed to be coming up Roadrunners before the game started as UTSA won the coin toss and elected to defer their option to the second half. Louisiana had a little issue with the opening kick but still managed to return it 26 yards to their own 32.
Louisiana then proceeded to drive down the field. They kept the drive alive by converting a fourth down and four at the UTSA 30. The Cajuns picked up 15 yards on that fourth down play. On the very next play they picked up another 15 yards to take a 7-0 lead with 10:43 remaining in the opening quarter.
UTSA looked like it was getting something going on its first drive. Harris and the Roadrunners started on their own six yard line and drove all the way to the Cajuns 29 yard line. That was where the drive ended when Harris threw an interception to the Cajuns at their 17 yard line.
The Roadrunner defense kept the Cajuns off the board on their next drive after Louisiana tried a fake field goal attempt. Harris and the offense had a better showing on the second drive of the afternoon. They got to the Cajuns 24 before having to settle for a 43-yard field goal attempt by Hunter Duplessis. Duplessis effort went wide right and the score remained 7-0 with 13:02 left in the second quarter.
Louisiana added a field goal on their next drive to make the score 10-0 with 8:27 on the clock. UTSA finally got on the board at the 4:33 mark of the second quarter when Frank Harris ran in from 11 yards out to cut the deficit to 10-7. The Cajuns answered with a touchdown on the ensuing drive and then carried that 17-7 lead into the intermission.
The third quarter got off to an abysmal start for UTSA. The Roadrunners started their first drive at their own 19 yard line. On a 2nd and 8 from their 21 the Roadrunners had a bad snap. Harris tried to salvage it by pitching to McCormick. McCormick was unable to handle it and Louisiana scooped it and returned it to the UTSA three. One play later the Cajuns were up 24-7 with 14:19 remaining in the third quarter when Lewis scored on a run.
UTSA had to punt on their next drive. Louisiana proceeded to drive into UTSA territory before Demarco Guidry forced a fumble and Trevor Harmanson recovered for the Roadrunners. Harris and the offense took over at their own 38 yard line.
“The play Demarco made was a big momentum shift for us,” Wisdom said. “That was a big play for us. We figured we would ride the momentum out as long as we could. I feel like that was our game to win.”
It took only four plays for UTSA to cover the 62 yards between them and the end zone. Harris connected with Zakhari Franklin for a 29-yard touchdown with 10:14 remaining in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 24-14.
UTSA forced Louisiana to punt on their next drive and the Cajuns downed the punt at the UTSA 11 yard line. Once again Harris and Franklin connected, this time a 52 yard pass that set UTSA up at the Louisiana 13 yard line. Franklin finished the game with 115 yards on five catches. McCormick carried the ball three yards to the 10 and then Harris found Josha Cephus open in the end zone for a touchdown that made the score 24-21 with 4:09 left in the third quarter. Cephus finished the afternoon with three catches for 26 yards. Harris also found Leroy Watson twice for 37 yards.
The score remained 24-21 until the 13:32 mark of the fourth quarter when UTSA tied the score with a 20-yard field goal from Duplessis. It proved a missed opportunity as the Roadrunners had gone from their own 15 yard line to the Louisiana three before the drive stalled.
“I thought we had a great chance of pulling it out,” Harris said. “We got to the red zone and had to settle for a field goal. We’ve got to learn from it.”
Louisiana drove down on their next drive and scored what proved to be the winning touchdown with 7:16 left to play.
UTSA drove to the Louisiana 35 but were unable to convert a fourth and four from the Cajuns 35 yard line with 4:40 left in the game. The Cajuns then ran out the rest of the clock to escape with the win.
With everything that happened in 2020 the Roadrunners finishing 7-5 can only be considered a success. UTSA might not have gotten their first win in a bowl game or first win over a top-25 opponent but those days will come. If UTSA can consistently put together stretches like the last 14 minutes of the third quarter for longer stretches of time those wins will come sooner than later.
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