Roadrunners rally for thrilling 33-31 victory at South Alabama in season opener
MOBILE, Ala. — Sean Ianno drilled a career-long 51-yard field goal with 16 seconds remaining to lift UTSA to a 33-31 victory at South Alabama on Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
The win was the Roadrunners' first away from the Alamo City in program history, as well as the first against a Football Bowl Subdivision foe.
Ianno, who tied his school record with four field goals, helped end a wild affair that saw the lead exchange hands a total of five times, four in the final stanza alone.
“It felt amazing,” Ianno said. “I just wanted to show everyone I was ready to make that kick to finish off all the hard work we put in the whole game.”
UTSA saw a 30-24 advantage turn into a one-point deficit after C.J. Bennett connected with Jereme Jones on a 34-yard touchdown pass with 2:46 left to play.
However, the Roadrunners took advantage of a 27-yard kickoff return by Kenny Harrison and a personal foul on USA's Tyrone Bivins, which gave them the ball at their own 46-yard line with 2:38 remaining.
Eric Soza, who was 18-of-30 for 215 yards and a program-record three touchdowns, found Brandon Armstrong for a 15-yard pass completion on third-and-10 to move UTSA down to the Jaguars' 39-yard line. A 4-yard rush by Evans Okotcha and a 1-yard pass to Harrison set up Ianno's game-winning kick, which sailed through the uprights with plenty of distance to give the second-year program its first road win in five tries.
"We beat a good team today and South Alabama fought as hard as we did," head coach Larry Coker said. "It was a tough loss for them and a great win for us.”
UTSA held a 20-17 lead entering the fourth quarter, but Tyrell Pearson picked off a Soza pass and returned it 28 yards to the Roadrunners' 7-yard line. Four plays later, Kendall Houston found paydirt from inside the one to give South Alabama a 24-20 advantage.
The Roadrunners reclaimed the lead three-and-a-half minutes later when Soza lofted a 34-yard pass to Earon Holmes on fourth-and-6 for to make it 27-24.
The Jaguars gave the ball right back to the Birds on the next offensive play when Bennett dropped back to pass but fumbled on his own 25-yard line and Dan Winter recovered.
Ianno then was good from 21 yards out to push the lead to a half dozen (30-24).
That turnover was USA's fourth of the afternoon and the Roadrunners converted those miscues into 20 points (2 TDs/2 FGs). In fact, UTSA has converted 25 opponent turnovers into points 19 times (14 TDs/5 FGs) in its brief history.
South Alabama got on the board first with an eight-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by an 11-yard run by Demetre Baker, but the Roadrunners responded with 20 unanswered points.
Soza connected on scoring tosses of 58 yards to Kam Jones (third-longest scoring pass in school annals) and 23 yards to Cole Hicks. Ianno went on to add field goals from 47 and 32 yards out to push the lead to 20-7.
The Jaguars countered with a 2-yard TD pass from Bennett to Desmond Jones with 20 seconds left in the opening half to make it 20-14.
Originally scheduled for Thursday night, the contest was pushed back two days because of Hurricane Isaac, and it turned out to be well worth the wait for UTSA.
Saturday's thriller came nearly 11 months after the two teams battled into double overtime in a 30-27 South Alabama triumph last Oct. 8 at the Alamodome. Ianno's game-winning, 26-yard field-goal attempt at the end of regulation that day was blocked.
The Roadrunners will be back in action next Saturday, Sept. 8, when they host Texas A&M-Commerce at the Alamodome. Kickoff for the 2012 home opener is slated for 1 p.m. The Lions were defeated by Southeastern Oklahoma State, 31-6, on Saturday night.