By Jerry Briggs
After the UTSA Roadrunners escaped with a 26-13, season-opening victory over the Alabama State Hornets Saturday night, some of the 22,380 fans at the Alamodome likely left the building wondering what to make of the home team.
In the head coaching debut of UTSA’s Frank Wilson, the Roadrunners committed eight penalties and four turnovers and trailed a squad from the lower-level Football Championship Subdivision for a good chunk of the first half.
Afterward, Wilson told his players not to worry about the miscues.
He told them to enjoy themselves.
“The thing I told our team (in) the postgame was, ‘Be excited, man, we just won a game,’ ” Wilson said. “They are hard to come by. There are teams (from) Power Five schools in this country that lost to FCS schools. There are teams that hung on by the skin of their tooth.
“And, so, we were able (to) claim victory, and they are hard to come by every Saturday. You only get 12 of them. So, we’ll take it how we can get it. Then on Sunday we’ll deal with the rest, and we’ll build on it.”
Down 7-6 after the first quarter, the Roadrunners scored 20 straight points behind junior quarterback Dalton Sturm to take charge against the Hornets, UTSA’s first FCS opponent since 2012.
Sturm finished with two touchdowns passing and one rushing to help UTSA improve to 5-1 in season openers.
After learning Saturday morning that he had won the starting job in a battle with senior transfer Jared Johnson, Sturm hit 20 of 25 passes for a personal-best 274 yards.
His only error came on a poor throw in the third quarter when he was picked off on a deep ball near the Alabama State goal line.
“The (offensive) line did a heck of a job protecting for me,” Sturm said. “It made it easy for me to drop back and feel comfortable out there. The receivers were doing a great job getting open. It’s pretty easy, when the receivers are wide open, to hit them.”
Johnson, a transfer from Sam Houston State, played a series in each quarter but could not get much of anything going.
The 2015 Southland Conference offensive player of the year finished 2 of 8 passing for 13 yards. He was sacked once and generally looked out of sorts.
“I told them before the game that we would let Dalton go the first two series because he earned the right to be the starter,” Wilson said. “(I told them) we would get Jared in on the third series and then go back with Dalton again to get him in some type of rhythm.”’
UTSA’s special teams ignited the crowd on the game’s first play.
On the opening kickoff, Roadrunners freshman Eric Banks walloped Hornets return man Destin Porter and forced a fumble. UTSA’s Andrew Martel recovered at the six.
From there, the Roadrunners cashed it in for a touchdown when Sturm hit junior transfer Marquez McNair on a 5-yard TD pass.
Daniel Portillo’s extra point hit the upright and bounced back, leaving UTSA with a 6-0 edge at the 13:39 mark.
Alabama State, playing in front of a suddenly energized crowd, didn’t flinch at the misfortune. The Hornets proceeded to unleash a running attack that gave the Roadrunners problems for the next two quarters.
First, the Hornets forced a fumble by Roadrunners tailback Jarveon Williams and recovered it at their own 23. Alabama State capitalized, marching 77 yards on 13 plays. The Hornets took a 7-6 lead when Khalid Thomas ran over left guard to score.
Late in the first half, the Roadrunners responded with a 51-yard touchdown run from Sturm on a scramble to take a 14-7 lead.
On the best offensive play for UTSA in the half, Sturm received the snap in the shot-gun formation. Looking to throw, he pulled it down, veered to his right and found a gap on the corner.
Sturm sprinted up the right sideline and through the Alabama State secondary, giving UTSA its first lead on the Hornets in almost 15 minutes.
At that point, UTSA called time to figure out what to do on the conversion. The Roadrunners elected to go for two and made it, with Sturm rolling right and hitting sophomore Greg Campbell Jr. in the numbers for the 7-point halftime lead.
After intermission, the Roadrunners took the field without the services of Williams, their 1,000-yard rusher from a year ago, who had suffered a sprained ankle.
But they came out firing anyway behind Sturm and executed a wild, 6-play, 74-yard scoring drive. During the drive, Sturm threw downfield strikes to Josh Stewart, McNair and Shaq Williams.
A penalty negated some of the yardage on the throw to Stewart that carried deep into Alabama State territory.
On the next play, McNair hauled in a pass that would have put UTSA at the Hornets’ 5-yard line.
But that one, too, came back on an offensive interference flag against McNair. Undaunted by the misfortune, Sturm cranked it up and hit Williams, a tight end, for 51 yards.
UTSA covered the final 14 yards in three plays, with Jalen Rhodes scoring on a run from the one.
To cap his performance, Sturm, a one-time walk-on from Goliad, drove the Roadrunners 85 yards on 11 plays for their final score.
After McNair turned a short throw into a 33-yard gain, Sturm lofted a ball to Kerry Thomas, who made a 25-yard grab for a score and a 26-7 lead.
Thomas admitted that UTSA wanted to test the Alabama State secondary with some deep throws in the second half.
“I think it’s all about taking shots and keeping the defense on their heels,” Thomas said.
Turning point: UTSA took charge of the game on the first drive of the second half. The Roadrunners traveled 74 yards on six plays to score and take a 20-7 lead. Set back by two straight penalties, the big play came on a 51-yard pass from Sturm to tight end Shaq Williams. Jalen Rhodes scored on a 1-yard run.
Notebook: Wilson said running back Jarveon Williams is day to day with an ankle sprain. “We’ll gauge him tomorrow,” the coach said. “We started treatment as soon as we got off the field.”
Redshirt freshman linebacker Josiah Tauaefa led the defense with 13 tackles, including two of UTSA’s school-record six sacks …
The opening-day crowd of 22,380 fell short of UTSA’s five previous home openers in the Alamodome.
UTSA drew an NCAA start-up record 56,743 for its inaugural game in 2011 against Northeast Oklahoma, the only other time that the team has opened a season at home.
Other crowds for UTSA’s home openers were 40,977 for Oklahoma State in 2013, 33,472 for Arizona in 2014, 30,416 for Texas A&M-Commerce in 2012 and 29,424 for Kansas State last year.
Up next: The Colorado State Rams will have no shortage of talking points as they review film from a season-opening 44-7 loss to Colorado in Denver on Friday night.
The Rams, who host the Roadrunners next Saturday, fell behind by 37 points before scoring in the fourth quarter on a touchdown pass by backup quarterback Faton Bauta.
Colorado State beat UTSA 33-31 last year in the dome. UTSA led 17-9 in the first half before giving up 21 unanswered points. Trailing by the eventual final score, the Roadrunners stalled on a drive at the Rams’ 38-yard-line mid-way through the fourth quarter.
Forced to punt, they watched as the Rams held the ball for the final 5:28 to escape with the victory.null