The State of the Program Entering I-A
UT-San Antonio is the embodiment of the modern drive by universities to use the lucrative business of big-time college sports to promote their institutions. Until 2006, the football program at UTSA consisted of a dream in the minds of the administration and the student body and a feasibility study being conducted by Carr Sports Associates. Students voted in fall 2007 to increase their fees in order to gain football on campus, approval from the University of Texas System Board of Regents would come soon after, and a fundraising campaign went into high gear.
The hiring of former Miami head coach Larry Coker in March 2009 would accelerate the building momentum for college football in San Antonio. Coker, who had led Miami to the 2001 national championship and three straight BCS bowls at the beginning of the decade, quickly got to work assembling his staff, and the team would issue scholarships to their first recruiting class in February 2010.
The Roadrunners would enter discussions with the Western Athletic Conference during the summer, finally earning and quickly accepting an invitation from the league in November. The coaches and budding roster set about preparing for the team’s inaugural season playing a I-AA schedule in 2011.
Texas-San Antonio kicked off the first game in school history on September 3, 2011 against Northeastern State. In front of 56,743 at the Alamodome, Roadrunners’ quarterback Eric Soza scored on a 14-yard scramble on UTSA’s opening drive to notch the first touchdown in school history, and the home team romped to a 31-3 victory.
Their first month of existence concluded with a 2-2 record. After losing a heartbreaker 24-21 to Division II McMurry, the Roadrunners went to Southern Utah for their first road game and were doubled up by the Thunderbirds in a lopsided 45-22 defeat. They would earn their second win on the last weekend of September, blowing away NAIA Bacone College 54-7.
Playing at their own level proved much more difficult for UT-San Antonio as the schedule moved into October. They would fall 22-7 at Sam Houston State on the first of the month, the start of a three-game losing streak in the heart of the inaugural campaign. A hard-to-swallow 30-27 overtime loss at home to South Alabama befell the Roadrunners on the following Saturday, and UC-Davis demolished UTSA 38-17 in California before Coker’s team finally got a bye week to catch their breath and try to regain their composure.
Things went San Antonio’s way when Georgia State came to town on October 29 after the break. The Panthers, another new program in just its second season of existence, took a 14-3 lead into the locker room at halftime. After 45 minutes, the Roadrunners failing to cut the deficit at all in the third quarter, it appeared that GSU was about to gain the away win. But UTSA scored a touchdown on a 9-yard run by Chris Johnson a minute into the fourth quarter, Soza found Brandon Freeman for the two-point conversion, and the home team was within three. Driving down the field in the final minute, the Roadrunners took advantage of their last chance and tied the game with 24 seconds remaining on a 39-yard Sean Ianno field goal.
The Panthers would get the ball first in overtime, and UTSA’s defense clamped down. When Georgia State’s kicker Christian Benvenuto missed the 48-yard attempt on 4th and 16, all Coker’s crew had to do was play conservatively on their possession to set up Ianno. Giving him a more manageable chance, the team gained nine yards with three runs up the gut by running back Evans Okotcha. With the ball in the middle of the field, Ianno coolly knocked the 32-yarder through the uprights, and the losing streak had ended.
McNeese State would knock off the Roadrunners 24-21 on November 12 in the penultimate game of UTSA’s first season. Falling behind 17-0 in the first half in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Coker’s crew nearly engineered a comeback in the second half before running out of time. The season would end on a high note at the Alamodome, as UTSA concluded the campaign with a 49-7 whipping of Division II Minot State to end a competitive first year of football that belied the 4-8 record.
The First Season
Moving up immediately in 2012, the Roadrunners became a transitional I-A member in just their second season of existence and filled out the WAC’s membership in its final football season. The schedule opened with a rematch against South Alabama, with another close contest ending in a 33-31 road victory for UTSA. After knocking off Division II Texas A&M-Commerce 27-16 at home the following Saturday, Texas-San Antonio took to the road again and vanquished Georgia State for a second straight season. This time overtime would be unnecessary, the Roadrunners racing away with a 38-14 win at the Georgia Dome to move to 3-0.
Division II Northwestern Oklahoma State rolled over 56-3 in the Alamodome on September 22 as the Roadrunners improved to 4-0 ahead of their first WAC showdown in Las Cruces against new Mexico State. Taking to WAC competition quickly, Soza threw for 269 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 55 yards and another score as UTSA routed the Aggies 35-14 to end the month of September still undefeated.
A bye week arrested UT-San Antonio’s momentum, as Rice finally dealt the Roadrunners their first defeat of the season on October 13. The loss was followed the next weekend by San Jose State’s beatdown of UTSA 52-24 in the Alamodome. On the final Saturday of October, Utah State replicated the Spartans’ feat, pummeling the Roadrunners 48-17 on their trip to Texas.
Entering November with a three-game losing streak, Coker took his crew east to face a Louisiana Tech team ranked in the Top 25 of most major polls. The Bulldogs, dueling with San Jose State and Utah State for the last WAC championship, managed a similar result against UTSA as they handily won 51-27 on their home turf.
A visit from McNeese State provided the catalyst the Roadrunners needed to end the losing streak. Having lost to the Cowboys the previous year, UTSA pulled ahead by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter en route to a 31-24 victory to finally win their sixth of the season. (Due to their hybrid transitional schedule, however, the Roadrunners would not be eligible for a bowl game.)
The season ended with two final WAC matchups. The Roadrunners would travel to Moscow on November 17, knocking off an Idaho team preoccupied with the fight for its I-A life in the wake of the WAC’s demise. In the season finale, UTSA hosted fellow transitional member Texas State at the Alamodome. Sean Rutherford would trade punches all night with Soza in the offensive duel between the quarterbacks, but the Roadrunners would prevail 38-31 thanks in part to Kenny Harrison’s 79-yard punt return score midway through the first quarter.
With the win in the season finale, UT-San Antonio finished its first season as a transitional I-A member with an 8-4 record despite playing a tougher schedule than they had in their inaugural campaign the previous year. In the process, the Roadrunners finished with a .500 record in WAC play and would likely have earned a bowl berth had they been eligible for an invitation. For Coker, who had been fired at his previous stop in Coral Gables despite posting an .800 winning percentage, three conference crowns and a national title in six seasons, the season was validation that he could win with talent he recruited himself.
Outlook for the Future
As the Roadrunners continue their transition in 2013, they will move from the defunct WAC to Conference USA as a new Texas representative for the league following the defection of Houston and SMU to the American Athletic Conference. Soza enters his final season of eligibility at UTSA on the preseason Manning Award watchlist, and Coker has built a program in an under-appreciated market that has the potential to grow into a powerhouse in its new conference.
Entering their sophomore season, there will be no I-AA or Division II teams to pad the record as UTSA plays its first full FBS schedule. As they adjust to life in C-USA and a full dozen games against tougher competition, we will start to get a true measure of the state of this budding program in south Texas.
About the Author: Zach Bigalke
Zach is a historian and author who has been covering sports near and far for various publications since 2006. Formerly the managing editor of Informative Sports and Global Turnstile, he has also been featured at Helium, FanSided, the Portland State Vanguard and other online publications. He currently lives in Track Town USA, where he lives with his wife while belatedly pursuing higher education at the University of Oregon.