Frank Harris passed for 280 yards and Zakhari Franklin had a career-best 155 receiving yards to help lead UTSA to a 37-30 victory over Illinois on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
The Roadrunners led throughout in logging the program’s second victory against a team from a Power Five conference, improving to 9-2 all-time in season openers in the process. UTSA’s other triumph over a P5 program was a 17-10 decision over Baylor in the 2017 lid-lifter.
Harris and Franklin led an offense that piled up 497 yards in the Roadrunners’ first meeting with a Big Ten Conference school, as Sincere McCormick registered his fourth straight 100-yard game on the ground with 117 yards on 31 carries. Brenden Brady added 67 yards and a pair of scores on 11 totes. Harris completed 20 of 32 passes and tossed one touchdown pass to Franklin, who had a game-high 10 receptions. Joshua Cephus pitched in with six catches for 73 yards.
Defensively, Trevor Harmanson and Tariq Woolen posted nine tackles apiece, while Jamal Ligon and Dadrian Taylor each made six stops.
Brady found paydirt for the second time on a 33-yard dash with 4:57 left to play to help hand UTSA a 37-27 lead.
However, Illinois quickly answered with a 14-play, 60-yard drive that culminated in James McCourt’s third field goal of the night, this one from 32 yards to make it a one-score game again.
The Illini then forced a three-and-out and took over at their own 35 with 1:31 remaining. Quarterback Artur Sitkowski guided Illinois down to the UTSA 15 with less than 30 seconds to go before an offensive pass interference penalty pushed the home team back to the 30. With nine seconds showing on the clock, Sitkowski tried to find Isaiah Williams but the pass sailed incomplete. Then, with two seconds left, Sitkowski found Casey Washington, but the pass was caught out of bounds, securing the win for UTSA.
After coming up empty on their first two possessions, the Roadrunners got on the board first when Frank Harris scored on a 9-yard keeper with 1:32 left in the opening frame. That touchdown capped a 13-play, 94-yard drive that took 4:40 off the clock and was keyed by passes from Harris to Franklin for 20, 14 and 17 yards.
The Roadrunners went up by two touchdowns early in the second quarter. Harris found Franklin for 25 yards to set up Brenden Brady’s 7-yard touchdown scamper.
Illinois cut the UTSA lead in half on its next possession after Deuce Spann hauled in a 31-yard TD pass from Sitkowski down the left sideline.
The Roadrunners responded with a 32-yard field goal from Hunter Duplessis to make it 17-7 with 6:24 left until halftime.
Sitkowski found Daniel Barker wide open in the end zone on Illinois’ next drive and the extra point trimmed the UTSA advantage to three points.
UTSA took advantage of an opportunity late in the half when Caleb Cantrell came up with a loose ball at the 26-yard line after Lucas Dean’s punt bounced off an Illinois player. The Roadrunners settled for a 28-yard field by Duplessis that provided the 20-14 halftime margin.
Duplessis had a 27-yard field goal late in the third quarter that pushed the UTSA advantage to 23-17, only to see McCourt split the uprights from 53 early in the final period.
Franklin then turned a short pass from Harris into a 19-yard TD reception to help push the lead to 10.
Illinois cut it to three points again on a 15-yard touchdown catch by Daniel Barker with just fewer than 10 minutes left, setting the stage for the thrilling final minutes.
Sitkowski threw for 266 yards and three TDs on 22-of-42 passing with Williams catching eight balls for 101 yards to lead the Illini.
The Roadrunners will return home to host Lamar (1-0) next Saturday, Sept. 11. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. at the Alamodome