SAN ANTONIO – Jeff Traylor did not mince words at his postgame press conference Saturday evening.
“We need the city to show up.”
UTSA’s third-year head coach had just seen his resilient squad complete a thrilling and historic comeback to defeat UTEP 34-31. The Roadrunners finished the regular season with a 10-2 overall record including a perfect 8-0 mark against Conference USA opponents, a first in program history. Over the past two seasons, only four college football programs have a better overall record than UTSA’s 22-4 mark: Georgia (26-1), Michigan (24-2), Ohio State (22-3) and Alabama (23-4). Additionally, the team finally broke back into the AP Top 25 over the weekend at No. 23 overall and moved up a spot in the latest AFCA Coaches Poll to No. 24.
Even with all of that success, Traylor was laser-focused on the challenge ahead: hosting North Texas in their second straight Conference USA Championship Game at the Alamodome. Saturday’s victory happened in front of 26,061 fans, the fourth-largest crowd this season, and the fans made their presence felt multiple times during UTSA’s remarkable comeback.
Traylor wants a much larger crowd on Friday night.
“It’s got to be like tonight times two for us to have a competitive chance,” Traylor said. “We worked hard to get that home-field [advantage]. We can’t waste it, man. We cannot waste it. We need to get this place packed.”
The Roadrunners defeated Western Kentucky 49-41 in the title game last season in front of 41,148 people, one of the largest crowds in program history. They nearly equaled that crowd size with 37,526 fans for their season-opening triple-overtime loss to then-No. 25 Houston on September 3. Since then, attendance at the Alamodome has averaged roughly 25,000 people per game. UTSA hasn’t had a crowd larger than 50,000 since a still-record 56,743 fans attended the Roadrunners’ first-ever home game in 2011. The team knows how impactful a large crowd can be.
“I just think about last year, the last championship game against Western Kentucky,” linebacker Trey Moore said. “The Alamodome was really rocking that game, and it helped us. If [the fans] can come to this game, it will give us an edge. I really believe that. If y’all can make it out, make it out.”
“We should be shooting for the record,” Traylor said. “I mean, come on. This is the second consecutive championship at home. This is hard to do, man. I don’t know what we have to do, but we’ve got to get 50,000 people in there. Whatever it takes, we’ve got to get them here.”
Saturday’s victory over UTEP was UTSA’s ninth straight win and their sixth game decided by a single possession this season. The Roadrunners are 5-1 in those contests, including a dramatic 31-27 victory over North Texas in the Alamodome back on October 22. There’s no question this year’s UTSA team has shown they can perform in crunch time, but the mood in UTSA’s locker room is very different following their latest great escape.
“We’re treating this last game like a loss,” Harris explained. “You can tell the guys weren’t happy, even though we won. We’ve got a lot to clean up, at least on the offensive end, before we go out there and play North Texas. They’re a good team. The emotions are going to be very high, especially since it’s a championship game. And it’s a rematch. There’s a lot of history between us two, but we’ve got to keep our heads and go out there and play football like we know how to.”
The Roadrunners will have to battle the Mean Green without several key contributors. Wide receiver De’Corian “JT” Clark, who caught the game-winning touchdown against UNT, is already out for the season after suffering a leg injury in UTSA’s 44-38 overtime victory over UAB. Running back Brenden Brady, who carried the ball 19 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns against UNT, suffered an arm injury during UTSA’s win over UTEP and will miss the title game. Tight end Gavin Sharp suffered an ugly leg injury in the UTEP game as well, adding to a list of eight one-time starters who will not suit up on Friday.
“We’ve just been in a constant shuffle the entire season,” Traylor said. “I’m sure North Texas has injuries as well. There are guys that we were counting on to play, but we keep shuffling. We say it all the time, healthy teams don’t win championships. Tough ones do.”
Meanwhile, North Texas rebounded from their loss to UTSA by winning three of their final four regular season games, including dominant victories over Western Kentucky and FIU. The Mean Green escaped with a 21-17 victory over Rice to finish with a 7-5 overall record. Austin Aune completed 16 of 29 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns in that victory and moved into a tie with Mason Fine for the most touchdown passes in a single season with 31. The record was important to Aune, but not as much as a chance to avenge UNT’s loss to UTSA.
“I can, off the top of my head, remember what it felt like in that locker room,” Aune said. “We’re all ready to get back to San Antonio and play again. We’ll be ready. We want to win a conference championship, and now we’ve got that opportunity. We’re ready to go back to San Antonio and win.”
Kickoff in the Alamodome between No. 23 UTSA and North Texas is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Friday. Tickets are available right now online at Ticketmaster or in-person at the Alamodome Box Office.