SAN MARCOS -- As the clock ticked at Bobcat Stadium on a sweltering day in the Texas Hill Country, Texas State held a masterclass in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
With the game coming down to the wire, Texas State seemingly completed a highlight reel touchdown catch down the left sideline to tie the game. It was overturned on review, and two plays later, a pass bounced off a Bobcat receiver’s hands and right into UTSA safety Rashad Wisdom’s for an 81-yard pick-six.
With only 76 seconds remaining, receiver Jeremiah Haydel picked a deep punt off the ground and somehow snaked through half a dozen tacklers for an improbable 90-yard touchdown. A missed extra point, though, sent the game to overtime where highly-regarded kicker Alan Orona missed a chip shot to end the game.
The last time Texas State and UTSA played on this field, the Marcus Davenport-led Roadrunners sped their way past the hapless Bobcats by 30 points in 2017. The 51-48 double-overtime final decision on Saturday certainly was not that. But in some ways, the frustration cuts even deeper.
Said an exasperated Texas State coach Jake Spavita afterwards: “I love the fight of this team, but I told them, when are we going to change the narrative of this university? When are we going to be the team that overcomes adversity and wins the game?”
The loss brings the Bobcats to 0-4 all-time against the hated Roadrunners, even though Texas State is a two-time NCAA national champion and UTSA is one of the freshest faces in FBS. It extends second-year man Spavital’s active losing streak to five games and notches first-year UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor a perfect 1-0 record.
But hanging over the frustrating rivalry contest like a dark cloud was the story that will come to define the 2020 college football season.
Texas State starting quarterback Brady McBride earned acclaim after throwing for 227 yards and two touchdowns in a strong season-opening performance against powerhouse SMU. Everything aligned for Texas State to finally win football’s version of the I-35 Rivalry for the first time ever.
But on Friday, Spavital was told that due to coronavirus protocols, McBride – and a handful of others – would not be available against UTSA. He appears to be the first starting quarterback to be knocked out of a college football game by the stringent protocols in 2020, and likely won’t be the last.
With just a few precious hours and one practice session to prepare for a rivalry game, Spavital’s attention turned to readying a new starting quarterback. He called backup Tyler Vitt before practice and gave him the news.
“He was just like, let’s ride, I’m behind you 100 percent,” Vitt said. “It was good to get out [to practice] and already know.”
The resilient junior from San Antonio MacArthur has lost the starting quarterback each of the three years he has been on campus. Each year, circumstance has forced him off the bench to try and win games. However, nothing quite prepares a player to become the starter with only one day of preparation.
Lost in the shuffle is that Vitt just finished a quarantine himself this week. He was forced to sit out of Texas State’s season opener against SMU because of Covid rules and only returned to practice on Sept. 8.
“We talk about the whole next-man-up deal and it’s sort of coach speak, but it’s so true in today’s day and time,” Spavital said. “We try to play a lot of people and rep a lot of people and understand these moments could happen to anybody. It could happen to me. It’s just so unexpected. You’ve got to have plans.”
Spavital and his offensive staff hurriedly adjusted the game plan to favor more of Vitt’s strengths of accuracy and decision-making. After a week of McBride-led workouts, the group thankfully had one round of practices left to reacquaint themselves with Vitt.
“We’re the offense,” Haydel said. “No matter who’s back there at quarterback, we’re going to play hard, play fast, play physical.”
But still, it was hard to ignore the lack of rhythm that plagued Texas State the entire first half. After Brock Sturges’ 66-yard catch-and-run touchdown reception to open the game, here’s the rest of the second half drive chart: interception, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, end of half with Texas State trailing 24-7. Not exactly the offense Spavital built his career on.
The tide began to turn in the second half after Texas State started dialing up more deep shots to open up the offense. Vitt found Jah’Marae Sheread for a 31-yard score to open the second half. He used the Joe Flacco-esque all pass interference offense to set up a 12-yard TD from Calvin Hill. The new-look receiving corps showed up in a big way, and none bigger than JUCO addition Marcell Barbee’s two touchdown catches.
For how much Texas State missed McBride, Vitt played admirably. He finished the game with 346 passing yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions – one a miscommunication with a receiver, another the tipped ball.
“He’s a competitor,” Spavital said. “I’m telling you, he took some shots out there. A lot of people do not get up from those hits and he does. I’ll go to war with that kid any day.”
No matter the unique circumstances, taking SMU the distance and then getting outclassed by a far lesser UTSA team is a punch in the gut. This was the year. This is the moment Texas State should be further along, when they should have been 7.5-point favorites, more developed, more talented than UTSA. If not now, then when?
“I think we’re going to come together and this will be a breaking point for us,” Vitt said. “There’s only one way to go and that’s up.”
At least against the bitter rivals from down I-35, it will have to wait another year.
This article is available to our Digital Subscribers.
Click "Subscribe Now" to see a list of subscription offers.
Already a Subscriber? Sign In to access this content.