The first football game in UTSA history is less than a week away. The excitement is building and the team is ready to face their first real opposition since they began practicing over a year ago.
On the other side of the ball will be the Northeastern State RiverHawks, a school located in the small town of Tahlequah, Oklahoma with less than 10,000 students. The football team participates at the Division II level and is currently transitioning from the Lone Star Conference to the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
Some might argue that their most famous alum is American Idol winner Carrie Underwood, but there was a defensive back that played for NSU from 1966-1969 who went on to coach at the highest level of college football, winning both a National Championship and the Bear Bryant Award, given to the best college football coach in the nation. A mere 42 years since suiting up for Northeastern State, head coach Larry Coker will now lead the UTSA Roadrunners in their inaugural game against his alma mater.
The present-day RiverHawks are a team that can’t be overlooked, and are perhaps the best non-FCS opponent that we will face this season. They are coming off a 43-0 win over Bacone College, a team that just happens to be UTSA’s homecoming opponent. It was the team’s first shutout in ten years.
NSU’s success this past Saturday is largely due to their 12 returning starters, including quarterback Kenny Davis and wide receiver Trey McVay who led an explosive passing game that propelled NSU to the top of the North division of the Lone Star Conference in 2010.
Davis passed for over 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns last year, but he might not be the only quarterback on the RiverHawks to see action on Saturday. Johnny Deaton, a transfer from Oklahoma State, was a 3-4 star recruit and was ranked as high as the 7th best football player to come out of Oklahoma in 2010. He came to the RiverHawks this year hoping to challenge Davis for the starting quarterback job.
Both quarterbacks got looks in the blowout of Bacone College and performed almost identically, each racking up just over 75 passing yards, as well as a passing touchdown and rushing touchdown each.
Trey McVay was the recipient of both of those touchdown passes, continuing his dominance from last season when he scored 12 touchdowns while racking up 887 yards. The junior from Muskegee, Oklahoma will look to break through a UTSA secondary comprised almost entirely of players with absolutely no college experience.
The RiverHawks lost their three leading rushers from the 2010 season, but that didn’t seem to hold them back, as they had five players with at least five carries on Saturday night, running for a total 251 yards in the win.
While the offense was virtually unstoppable against Bacone, the defense put together an equally impressive performance, allowing only 70 total yards on 52 plays. Bacone had an abysmal 7% third down conversion rate (1 of 14) and were unable to convert on any of their four 4th down attempts.
One of their leaders on defense is senior defensive end Travis Boswell, who got to the quarterback three times on Saturday, which was more than half of his total sack count of 5.5 for the entire 2010 season. In addition to the 5.5 sacks last year, he had 46 tackles, 12 of which were for a loss.
The most explosive player for the RiverHawks would have to be cornerback Nate Robinson, who also typically handles the team’s return duties. He was named a Preseason All-American this year, and he deserved it after his performance in 2010. He snagged four interceptions, had ten pass breakups, recovered a fumble and blocked a kick last year. However, his best performance came in the season opener against Tarleton State when he returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, leading the team to a 31-23 win over the defending conference champions.
While there are no stats or film to break down for the first ever Roadrunner football team, there are three players who were a part of the Lone Star Conference with NSU before transferring to UTSA.
The first we’ll talk about is linebacker Steven Kurfehs, a redshirt sophomore who transferred to UTSA from Eastern New Mexico last year. While he was a standout in UTSA’s first year of practice, his former team lost a close 43-40 game to Northeastern State. Maybe I’m just looking too much into it, but I’m a little worried that one of our best players came from a school that couldn’t even beat NSU.
Similarly, our backup halfback CheRod Simpson and tight end T.J. Nielsen both transferred from Texas A&M-Commerce, also a member of the Lone Star Conference. Their former team didn’t even put up a fight against NSU last year, losing 38-7.
My prediction: NSU will be a much tougher opponent for UTSA than most people expect, and the game will likely come down to the wire. The RiverHawks will lead 14-10 and have possession with only three minutes remaining, when Nic Johnston will force a fumble and return it for a touchdown. The Roadrunners will hold on for a 17-14 win in their inaugural game.
While my crystal ball isn’t always right, a thrilling finish like that is exactly what UTSA needs if they want to keep the casual fans coming back for the rest of the year and for future seasons. Also, as I referenced earlier, NSU is probably our toughest non-FCS opponent, which means a win in this game will likely mean a win in the other three games against lower tier teams, and we’d be one FCS victory away from a .500 season.
Vote in the poll below and leave a comment letting us know how you think the Roadrunners will do in their inaugural game.