Texas players celebrate after the Longhorns 31-24 victory over Oregon State.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Alex Okafor stood atop the winner’s platform on the 50-yard line of the Alamodome, and his smile said it all.

Even as hundreds of colored balloons streamed from above and Texas players jumped around in child-like euphoria, it was the toothy grin of Texas’ senior leader that showed just how much the Longhorns’ last minute, 31-27 win over Oregon State meant.

The victory, at the Alamo Bowl, is only Texas’ ninth of the year, but it signified so much more. No, it does not mean the Longhorn program back to prominence. But it is a huge stride in the right direction.

Texas was ready to make the move forward against TCU and Kansas State, but on a Saturday night, only a few hours away from Austin, a young Longhorns squad inched towards where it wants to be.

“We told the guys at halftime ‘This is what we need, we need a tough win against a top team to get back into the mix where we get confidence,’” Brown said. “This was a really huge win for us.”

It didn’t look like it’d for the majority of the game. Not even close.

The Beavers dominated the first half, and outside of a 64-yard scamper by Marquis Goodwin on a reverse, the Longhorns only gained 59 yards on offense. It wasn’t much better for the defense either, as Oregon State gashed the Longhorns on the ground.

However, something sparked in the second half. 

Well really, it was three something’s: Okafor, Goodwin and David Ash.

Ash struggled early on in the game. He looked out of sorts, came up short on throws and never looked comfortable in the pocket. But in the third quarter he found a rhythm, and that started with his legs. Ash, who had only run for 119 yards and one touchdown all season, began to scramble in the third quarter, and it paid off.

After a Quandre Diggs interception, Ash marched Texas down the field for a touchdown, capped off by an 11-yard scamper by Ash.

The run put Texas within three points of the lead and helped swing the momentum of the game.

“When you’re struggling you have to wait for the play that sparks,” Ash said. “And in this game we started getting them.”

However, the Longhorns comeback never truly engulfed until another bit of magic by Ash, this time with his legs and his arm.

With eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Texas found itself, once again, down by 10. The Longhorns drove the ball into the Beavers’ red zone, but on third down things went amiss.

The pocket protection that had allowed the Longhorns to steer the ball deep into Oregon State territory started to break down, forcing Ash to scramble in the backfield to keep the drive alive. It was in that controlled chaos that Ash slipped out of a would-be tackle and rolled to his left, lofting a pass to a streaking Johnathan Gray in the end zone, where it landed softly in his hands.

“I think at that point you just start reacting,” Ash said. “It’s not really designed that way, just kind of happens that way.”

Ash’s instincts propelled the Longhorns. But it was the defense, specifically the pass rush that kept the Longhorns afloat during the scoring lulls.

During the preparation for the bowl game defensive coordinator Manny Diaz saw a weakness in the Beaver protection in passing situations, something the Longhorns exploited to the fullest.

Texas recorded an eye-popping 10 sacks, and made Beaver quarterback, Cody Vaz’s night miserable. Vaz, who had only thrown one interception all season, threw two in the loss. He looked flustered in the pocket, and never found his rhythm.

Okafor was the biggest reason why.

The senior lived in the backfield, causing havoc with every step. Okafor recorded an Alamo Bowl-record four-and-a-half sacks. He beat the Oregon State left tackle around the edge, on the inside with swim moves and even went straight through him on occasion. He was nothing short of a force. Okafor seemed at a loss for words to describe the moment saying simply, “I just kind of got in the zone.”

Okafor’s pass rushing ability sealed the game, but a connection between Ash and Goodwin won it.

With less than three minutes remaining and Texas down by three, the Longhorns finally converted a deep strike. Marquis Goodwin, an Olympian with elite speed, broke off a double move that left him nothing but open space and the end zone in front of him. And when Ash needed to make a throw the most, he delivered.

“It was a setup all game, Goodwin said. “They bit on the double move and I escaped him, Ash threw and great ball, and touchdown.”

The throw sealed the Longhorn win, and gave a young team momentum entering next season.

But for the seniors like Okafor, Goodwin and Kenny Vaccaro, the win meant so much more.

“[Strength Coach] Coach Cross had a good mention this morning in chapel,” Vaccaro said. “It was our job to get them [the team] to the Promised Land. He said ‘Moses got them to the Promised Land and Joshua took him through. And that’s what is left for these young guys to do.”  

Evans Okotcha breaks loose for a 36-yard touchdown run in UTSA’s home victory over Bacone College. Okotcha rushed for 106 yards in the game and had eight carries. He is the program’s first running back to rush for more than 100 yards. The offense scored 54 points in UTSA’s convincing victory.

Photo Credit: Jeff Huehn | UTSA Athletics

SAN ANTONIO — After getting blown out against Southern Utah last week, UTSA was hoping some home cooking would get it back on track.

In just their fourth game in school history, the Road Runners managed to get back to .500, crushing Bacone College 54-7 at the Alamodome on Saturday.

While sophomore quarterback Eric Soza didn’t put up great numbers, he did manage the game well and helped the Runners stop a two-game losing streak. The Beeville native used his arm and his legs to lead UTSA, rushing and passing for a touchdown in the first half. He finished 9-for-20 for 157 yards and one touchdown, a 63-yard strike on 3rd and 18 to freshman wide receiver Brandon Freeman, his second of the season.

“I was going to play the field, but they spun the coverage and they left Brandon all alone, so I was just, ‘don’t overthrow him,’ and he made a great catch and the line blocked phenomenally and we were able to score on that,” Soza said.

The UTSA offense sputtered for much of the first quarter. Two of its first three drives ended in punts while the other ended in a fumble by freshman running back Chris Johnson. Head coach Larry Coker had a feeling that the offense would struggle this week.

“I think that the errors that were made during the week, such as alignment errors, may come back to haunt you on Saturdays with that idea that you will ‘play like how you practice,’” Coker said. “Early in the game we had a fullback go the wrong way, so we didn’t make a first down and it is those things that you cannot do. Our talent won today, especially on offense.”

In need of a spark, the Runners got it in the form of a turnover.

Midway through the first quarter, the score still tied at zero, Bacone’s Anthony Ezell botched a punt on his own 11-yard line that was recovered by UTSA at the seven. Soza wasted no time in making the Warriors pay, rushing for a seven-yard touchdown on the next play. And just like that, UTSA was off to the races. The Runners went on to score 34 more first-half points, to lead the Warriors 41-0.

While the offense looked crisp after a slow start, UTSA’s defense was dominant from the beginning.

During the first half, the Runners created as many turnovers and sacked Bacone quarterback Michael Cook as many times as they allowed first downs: three. UTSA’s rush defense continued their solid play, allowing only 13 yards on eight carries.

The highlight for the defense came five minutes into the second quarter when sophomore linebacker Steven Kurfehs intercepted Cook’s pass and ran it back 45 yards for a touchdown, the first defensive score in school history. The touchdown gave the Runners a 28-0 lead and put the
game away.

Resting their starters in the second half, the second-string players continued UTSA’s domination. Back-up quarterback John Simmons connected with freshman and San Marcos native Mike Wilburn on an 18-yard touchdown to add to the rout.

The victory against the Warriors showed just how good UTSA could be, but the Runners, who will join the WAC next season, know that difficult challenges lay ahead. UTSA will take on Sam Houston State next week, only their second Division I opponent of the season.

“The thing I expect from Sam Houston State is the same that I expected from Southern Utah, which is better athletes,” Coker said. “That is what we are going to play.”

Printed on Monday September 26, 2011 as: UTSA comes back strong with big win