HOUSTON (AP) — Marcus Jones returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown with 17 seconds remaining to give Houston a 44-37 victory over No. 19 SMU on Saturday night, extending the Cougars’ winning streak to seven games.
After the Mustangs (7-1, 3-1 American Athletic) tied it at 37 on Blake Mazza's 45-yard field goal with 30 seconds left, Jones took the kickoff at the goal line and broke several tackles before breaking loose for the Cougars (7-1, 5-0).
“I didn’t think he was going to kick it to me at first,” Jones said. “Whenever I saw him kick it, I was going to return it. … I saw the seam and I was like, ‘I got to hit it.'”
Jones, who also had an interception, has four special teams’ touchdowns this season, which leads the nation.
“I keep saying he’s the best returner in the country, which he is,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I think he’s getting to the point where I might say he’s the best returner ever. … The things he does are unbelievable, and for him to do it in both punt and kick, it’s unbelievable.”
SMU coach Sonny Dykes said the Mustangs’ uncertainty on the preceding fourth-and-2 play from the Houston 28 before deciding to kick the field goal played a large role in the kickoff return because they called timeout earlier then they would have wanted.
“Had I known we were going to kick the field goal, for sure, I would have let it run down, and we would have just squibbed it,” Dykes said.
With 30 seconds remaining, Dykes said he didn’t want to give Houston good field position.
“We were trying to kick the ball in corner and force him to go into the corner, and he just mishit it a little bit,” Dykes said. “The guy did a good job returning it.”
Tanner Mordecai had one last chance to tie it in the final seconds, but his pass into the end zone was knocked down.
Houston’s Clayton Tune threw for a career-high 412 yards and four touchdowns, Nathaniel Dell caught nine passes for 165 yards and three scores and Jeremy Singleton had five catches for 93 yards.
Tune threw touchdown passes of 7, 48 and 17 yards to Dell and had a 4-yard touchdown pass to KeSean Carter.
The Cougars finished with 489 yards and were 9 of 16 on third downs.
Mordecai was 24 of 37 for 305 yards and three touchdowns. Danny Gray caught five passes for 73 yards, and Rashee Rice had six catches for 51 yards and a score for the Mustangs, which finished with 355 yards.
Bryan Massey gave the Mustangs their first lead with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half, but the Cougars answered with another touchdown from Tune to Dell.
Tre Siggers scored on a 2-yard run to give SMU a 34-30 lead with 5:46 left in the third.
SMU: The Mustangs’ saw their seven-game winning streak snapped and possibly their chances of reaching the American Championship game. … The Mustangs struggled in the running game, finishing with 50 rushing yards led by Siggers, who had 44.
“We have to make sure that one loss doesn’t become two,” Dykes said. “Who knows what’s going to happen in conference. There’s a lot of things that can happen.”
Houston: The Cougars are in control in the American with four games remaining. … The Cougars’ defense did well in limiting SMU’s high-powered offense and sacked Mordecai three times, which is one more than the quarterback had been sacked in the first seven games of the season.
“I still think our best football is still ahead of us, which is an awesome place to be when you’re sitting undefeated in conference and 7-1,” Holgorsen said.
On a Houston third-and-9 from the SMU 48, Isaac Slade-Matautia hurdled Houston running back Ta’Zhawn Henry and batted down Tune’s pass to end the Cougar drive.
SMU will fall at least a few spots following the loss and could drop out. Houston, who was receiving votes, could enter the poll.
SMU: At Memphis on Saturday.
Houston: At South Florida on Saturday.