Sincere McCormick rushed for 204 yards and three touchdowns and Jahmal Sam intercepted a pass as time expired to help lead UTSA to a 49-41 victory over WKU in the 2021 Ryan Conference USA Championship Game on Friday night in front of 41,118 fans — the third-largest crowd in program history — at the Alamodome.
Playing in their 11th season of football and second under head coach Jeff Traylor, the Roadrunners captured their first conference title and improved to 12-1 on the season with their school-record 10th straight home win. UTSA also won for the 15th time in the last 17 contests in beating the Hilltoppers (8-5) for the second time this season.
McCormick’s second career 200-yard game came on 36 carries, and a 218-yard, two-touchdown night from quarterback Frank Harris helped propel an offense that piled up 556 yards.
Meanwhile Sam had one of two interceptions and three takeaways, as Donyai Taylor recovered a muffed punt and Antonio Parks picked off a pass on back-to-back possessions early in the second half to help UTSA build a 29-point advantage. UTSA’s defense held the Hilltoppers to a C-USA Championship-Game record minus-9 rushing yards, the seventh opponent limited to fewer than 100 yards on the ground.
WKU cut into that 42-13 lead, as Kye Robichaux’s 1-yard rushing touchdown and a successful 2-point conversion on a pass from Bailey Zappe to Jerreth Sterns with 11:01 left to play pulled the visitors to within 42-34.
The Roadrunners responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that culminated on a 28-yard TD pass from Harris to De’Corian Clark, who caught four balls for 59 yards on the night.
However, Zappe hit Sterns on a 34-yard scoring connection with 3:58 on the clock to make it a one-score game again.
UTSA was forced to punt the ball back with a little more than one minute remaining and Zappe — who completed 36 of 59 passes for 577 yards and four TDs — directed WKU to just across midfield, but an incomplete pass followed by Sam’s INT sealed the victory.
Rashad Wisdom paced the Roadrunners with eight tackles, while Clarence Hicks posted four tackles and a pair of sacks to break the program’s single-season sacks record with 10. Sam had seven stops to go along with his pick and Parks made four tackles in addition to his interception.
UTSA reached the end zone on each of its first four possessions of the night while the defense forced WKU to settle for four field goal tries, two of which were successful, to help grab a 28-13 lead through the halfway point.
The visitors struck first on a 60-yard TD catch by Mitchell Tinsley, but UTSA answered with a 24-yard touchdown scamper by Harris.
McCormick countered a Brayden Narveson field goal with a 2-yard scoring plunge with 4:59 left in the opening frame to give the Roadrunners a 14-10 advantage.
Brenden Brady’s 6-yard touchdown run increased the lead to 11 points and then McCormick broke loose later in the frame for a 65-yard dash that provided the halftime margin.
The Roadrunners pushed their lead to 29 early in the third quarter. Taylor’s recovery of a muffed punt by Sterns at the 14-yard line set up Zakhari Franklin’s one-handed touchdown grab in the back corner of the end zone. Franklin finished with a team-high six receptions for 67 yards.
On the Hilltoppers’ next drive, Parks picked off a Zappe pass and returned it to the 17 and McCormick found the end zone for the third time on the next play to help make it 42-13 before WKU reeled off three unanswered touchdowns to make it a one-possession game.
Sterns led all players with 10 receptions for 179 yards and the two TDs, while Tinsley had nine catches for 173 yards and a pair of scores.
The Roadrunners will find out their bowl destination on Sunday, Dec. 5.