Last Modified: Saturday, November 10, 2012 11:19 PM
SAN ANTONIO — A handful of plays have defined the razor-thin margin between wins and losses for McNeese State this season.
It was another handful, particularly on third down, that ended the Cowboys’ playoff hopes as Texas-San Antonio escaped with a 31-24 win at the Alamodome Saturday evening.
The Roadrunners (6-4) converted 8 of 11 third downs in the second half, including a controversial one in the final 2 minutes, to help snap a four-game losing streak and send McNeese (6-4) to its third consecutive year without a playoff berth.
“I thought we had a chance tonight, but we just didn’t do a good enough job of making the plays when we had to,” said McNeese head coach Matt Viator. “Sure, you always look back and think, ‘What if?’ We had a couple of one-point losses and that’s the way it goes.
“I’m really proud of our kids tonight, though. I thought they really played hard and just had a tough time getting UTSA off the field tonight.”
Many of UTSA’s third-down conversions were created by elusive quarterback Eric Soza, who constantly evaded heavy pressure by McNeese to make plays typically only seen at elementary school recess.
“He’s very frustrating. I tried my best to keep getting after him, and he just kept finding ways to get rid of that ball somehow, some way,” said defensive tackle Pat Williams, who patted Soza on the backside after one of his improbable escapes. “I congratulate him on that. They played a good game.”
Soza finished 24 of 37 for 262 yards and two touchdowns, but was more importantly was not sacked, being able to avoid at least five potential sacks that a less-mobile quarterback would have taken.
“It’s very tough (on the defense),” Viator said. “Give Soza credit, he kept making plays. He kept scrambling in the pocket and buying more time.”
“He is a playmaker,” said UTSA coach Larry Coker. “He’s very smart and he has skills that make up a quarterback. This year he has gotten better and has been special for us.”
McNeese looked dead to rights with 9:55 left to play after Kristian Stern booted a 31-yard field goal to give UTSA a 31-10 lead. However, the Cowboys weren’t going to see their postseason aspirations end without delivering a counter punch.
A 12-play, 84-yard drive capped off by a 6-yard pass from Cody Stroud to fullback Dylan Long with 6:18 to go kept McNeese’s faint heartbeat going.
That was followed by the Cowboys’ first defensive stop of the second half, and McNeese jetted 86 yards down the field in 2:06 to cut the deficit to 31-24 with 3:05 left. Marcus Wiltz scored the touchdown on a 3-yard run, with the previous five plays all being first-down passes by Stroud.
The junior from Montgomery finished with career highs in completions, attempts and yards, going 34 of 46 for 346 yards.
When UTSA kickoff returner Brandon Armstrong ran the ensuing kickoff out of bounds at his own 7-yard line, the Cowboys started to believe.
“We were all excited when he went out of bounds,” Stroud said. “We thought we’d have an opportunity to get it back.”
Then some strange things started going the Roadrunners’ way.
The clock kept running when Kenny Harrison fumbled a short pass out of bounds, forcing McNeese to use its second timeout.
On third-and-4, Roadrunners quarterback Eric Soza found Erik Brown, who was stopped short of the first-down marker before the ball hit the ground and was recovered by McNeese without any whistle blowing. After a chaotic few seconds when no one knew what was happening, the officials determined Brown was down before fumbling, and that he had enough forward progress to get the first down.
“I don’t know. I was just surprised there was no measurement,” Viator said. “The spot, I thought, looked generous for them. I thought at least review it and get it right because it was such a critical time of the game.”
McNeese was able to challenge plays in the replay booth because UTSA is a Football Bowl Subdivision team, but could not in this situation because it was out of timeouts.
With the Cowboys unable to stop the clock, UTSA was able to keep the ball until just under 15 seconds remained. Stern booted a clutch 49-yard punt in the teeth of a McNeese rush that was fair caught by Darius Carey at the McNeese 39.
“For them to win the game I think they probably felt they needed to block the punt,” Coker said. “It’s sell the farm and go get him … what was really outstanding was the great coverage we had. Kristian also had great distance.”
McNeese’s last-gasp throw was harmlessly batted to the ground near the 15.
Posted By: John On: 11/11/2012
Title: More to come...
How many more seasons do we have to endure with this high school coach, never achieving to the level of the players' talents? We'll have plenty more to come, if they keep this coach. It will be season after season of underachieving.
Posted By: Michael On: 11/11/2012
Title: Not True
This one game against an FBS team did not end the Cowboy's playoff hopes... it was the previous 3 losses to league opponents.
What does 3 years without a playoff berth mean? It means it's time for a change.