By Lane Lewis
I would love to tell you that I walked into Robertson Stadium Saturday night expecting (or even THINKING) that Texas State would beat a Houston Cougars team that was ranked in the top 10 last year and was one loss away from playing in a BCS bowl game. That, to be honest, just wouldn’t be true. I took my seat fully expecting a blowout. I got one in the form of a 30-13 beat down from what looked to be the clearly better team. I just picked the wrong one to come out on top. The Bobcats controlled the game from the opening kickoff to the final whistle for the biggest win in school history, in their first game as a member of the FBS (formerly known as college football’s “division 1”).
Now make no mistake about it, this is not the same Houston team that almost crashed the BCS party a season ago. Quarterback Case Keenum, the NCAA’s all-time leader in passing yards, touchdowns, completions, and total yards, is long gone and currently on the Houston Texans practice squad. Wide receiver Patrick Edwards, the reigning Conference USA offensive player of the year who finished the 2011 season with 89 receptions for 1,752 and 20 touchdowns, is also in the NFL, as a member of the Detroit Lions. And head coach Kevin Sumlin left the school with a 34-17 record over the past 4 years and has been put in charge of Texas A&M’s move to the SEC. This is NOT the same team as last year.
But don’t underestimate the significance of this win for the Bobcats. As they prepare to enter the WAC and the FBS, a road win of this caliber shows that the move to the FBS wasn’t a mistake and that the learning curve might not be as steep as we originally thought. Also realize what a win like this can do for recruiting. Texas State is right smack in the middle of the most talent dense area in the entire country; the state of Texas. What last year looked to be a mediocre FCS team that would struggle in their move to the FBS has suddenly turned into an upstart program led by a head coach in Dennis Franchione who has had success at this level in the past. And for those recruits who feel like they might get lost in the depth chart at schools like the University of Texas, Texas A&M, and even Baylor now, a hot upstart might be the perfect place to start a college career.
Ok now let’s get back to the game itself. The Cougars elected to receive the opening kickoff and probably assumed they’d jump out to an early lead. And why shouldn’t they have? They were favored by 35 points, repeat: 35 points, and two years ago, when they last played the Bobcats, they cruised to a 68-28 throttling after leading 54-7 at halftime. But, on Saturday, it became obvious pretty quickly that these were both different teams as the Bobcat defense held Houston to a quick 3-and-out lasting all of 15 seconds. Then, it was Texas State’s turn. Led by quarterback Shaun Rutherford, the Bobcats went 65 yards in 8 plays on a scoring drive that ended with an impressive 21-yard touchdown by Marcus Curry on a Rutherford pass to take a 7-0 lead.
Houston responded with an impressive drive but had to settle for a 50-yard field goal to cut their deficit to 7-3. The next drive for Texas State would be crucial to respond to the score and to keep momentum on their side. Curry obliged on the very first play after the kickoff, hurdling a defender and busting out a 73 yard touchdown run that would land the #7 spot on that night’s SportsCenter’s top 10 plays of the day and extend their lead to 14-3. And for those keeping track at home, Curry’s last 2 plays had netted him 94 total yards and 2 touchdowns.
Each team took a turn punting before Houston answered with their own huge play. Sophomore quarterback David Piland hit freshman Larry McDuffey for a 64-yard touchdown to pull within 14-10 with 3:04 to go in the first quarter. In the stadium you could feel the momentum shift. This was when Houston would decide that they had had enough of this and pull away en route to 30 point blowout. Sitting in the Texas State section in the stands we could feel it too: “Well it was fun while it lasted.” The last few years the Bobcats might have folded under the circumstances. Specifically last year’s season opener against Texas Tech comes to mind. Leading 10-0 in the first quarter, the Bobcats would commit 4 turnovers over the course of the game and allow the Red Raiders to score the next 50 points for a 50-10 victory.
But, Texas State dug deep and showed some poise and heart that, personally, I didn’t know was there. They came right back out and put together a 10 play, 75-yard drive that was capped off with a 2-yard touchdown run by Curry, his 3rd touchdown of the game, to extend the lead to 21-10. Five minutes of game time later, Brian Lilly would recover a fumble on the Houston 22-yard line and set up a Will Johnson field goal to make it 24-10. After another defensive stop, the Texas State offense put together one last scoring drive of the half as Johnson would make a 45-yard field goal as time expired. Texas State 27. Houston 10.
The second half was a lot less eventful but, to me, still plenty impressive. After a big stop to start the 3rd quarter, the Houston offense went to work, driving down the field in their attempt to claw their way back in the game. But, in what might be the biggest (and most forgotten) play of the game, cornerback Craig Mager would intercept an almost perfect throw by Piland in the endzone, wrestling the ball away from the receiver and preventing a would-be touchdown that would have made decreased the lead to 27-17. Texas State wouldn’t look back. Bending but not breaking, the Bobcats defense would give up only a field goal the rest of the way as the offense added one of their own. With about five minutes left in the game and after a couple hours of stress, the Texas State faithful started to relax a little. Chants of “Eat ‘em up Cats!” and “Texas! State!” would fill the remaining minutes until Shaun Rutherford took a knee with four seconds to go.
The final horn sounded and the players rushed the field. Hugging each other and smiling, you could see the pure joy that has eluded the Bobcats the last few seasons. After congratulating the Cougars on a hard fought game, they gathered for the playing of the alma mater. Texas State played the best game in history in the biggest game in school history and came out on top 30-13. But there’s no time to dwell on the victory as they must now prepare for what will probably become the new biggest game in school history as Texas Tech comes to San Marcos for the first home game of the season. Thousands have waited in line for tickets the last week as it seems like the entire offseason has been building to this game. A new stadium is ready and waiting. The Bobcats will likely be a double digit underdog. Will I be picking them to lose? Not this time.