SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Frank Harris threw for 341 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 49 yards and another score, lifting No. 23 UTSA to its second straight Conference USA championship with a 48-27 victory over North Texas on Friday night at the Alamodome.
UTSA knocked off North Texas for the second time in six weeks. In a game on Oct. 21, it took Harris’ 10-yard pass to De’Corian Clark with 15 seconds remaining to give UTSA a 31-27 victory.
“This just means a lot for the city,” San Antonio native Harris said of the consecutive titles. “We were committed here. It was something we wanted to do for the city and for the university. Getting it done again this season definitely means a lot. What can I say? We’re back-to-back champs.”
Sophomore back Kevorian Barnes, who got his first start because of an injury to regular Brenden Brady, capitalized on the featured back role with 28 carries for 175 yards — both career highs — and a TD.
Not wanting a repeat of its regular-season finale a week earlier, in which UTSA found itself in a 24-0 hole against UTEP, the team came out pushing from the start, scoring on the opening possession — a 27-yard bust up the middle by Barnes.
After falling behind 10-7, the Roadrunners reeled off 17 unanswered points, including 10 in the final 1:12 of the first half to take a 24-10 lead at the break and never trailed again.
UTSA coach Jeff Traylor didn’t flinch after the Mean Green took the early lead.
“We’ve taken way more body blows than that this season,” Traylor said. “They don’t blink, they really don’t. They just keep playing the next play. That’s just the way they’re wired.”
Traylor pointed out previous deficits against the Roadrunners.
“They just won’t go away,” Traylor said. “It’s in their DNA, what they’re made of and how they believe in themselves."
Harris and the offense, which has scored at least 30 points in 12 of 13 games this season, kept the pressure on, rolling up 571 yards of total offense. Harris had scoring passes of 32, 14, and 39 yards to senior Zakhari Franklin, and his fourth — a 16-yard toss to junior tight end Oscar Cardenas — sealed the victory with 4:07 left.
“We always try to take what defense gives us,” Harris said. “Last time, I wasn’t prepared for checks and stuff like that. This time I was very prepared for those, whether it was a protection check or changing a route. Coaches put the keys in my hand and I went out and executed.”
Junior quarterback Austin Aune, who engineered a scoring drive that got North Texas within 34-27 early in fourth quarter, threw for 194 yards and score but was picked off twice. He said giving up the 17 unanswered points to end the first half was a turning point.
“They got a lot of momentum,” Aune said. “Offensively we needed to come up with touchdowns and we got field goals. WIth a good team like that, they’ve got a great offense, so we needed to take advantage of scoring and making more plays.”
The Roadrunners, who ran the table in conference play this season, improved to 11-2 and will await a bowl invitation. Projections include a potential bid from the New Orleans Bowl. North Texas fell to 7-6 and is bowl eligible.
The title game marked the final Conference USA game for both programs, which are set to join the AAC beginning next season. UTSA leaves with back-to-back crowns and UNT bows out with two straight losses in the title game. The Mean Green lost to Florida Atlantic 41-17 in the 2017 C-USA championship.
WILL HE, WON’T HE?
Harris, a sixth-year senior who will still have one year of eligibility, has not decided if he will come back next season as the Runners’ signal caller. He set UTSA passing records for yards in a season (3,865), career (9,158) and TDs in a season (31) and career (73).
“I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” Harris said. “But it’s not about me right now. It’s about my teammates. We’re champions. I just want to go back to the locker room and celebrate with my teammates.”
TRIANGLE OF TOUGHNESS
Traylor adopted a mantra for the team called the Triangle of Toughness, anchored by taking the San Antonio area code 210, and assigning the jersey numbers 2 (receiver Joshua Cephus), 1 (Linebacker Trevor Harmanson) and 0 (Harris) to the toughest players and team leaders. “It’s not just some words on wall,” Traylor said of the motto signified by a hand gesture that creates a triangle with the two thumbs and forefingers. “It’s stuff we live in our hearts. They’ll take it with them the rest of their lives. I can see their children walking around their house one day doing the triangle of toughness.”
QBS FOR THE BOOKS
While Franklin was setting a UTSA record for career touchdowns, UNT’s Aune’s lone scoring toss gave him a UNT season-record 32 touchdowns passes.
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