RUSTON, La. — The Cougars arrived fashionably late to Joe Aillet Stadium.
UH reeled off 28 unanswered points to beat Louisiana Tech 35-34 Saturday in the biggest comeback in school history. The Cougars were losing until the last two minutes of the fourth quarter when senior receiver Patrick Edwards caught a 32-yard strike from quarterback Case Keenum.
“That’s just him, hustling,” Keenum said. “I just put it out there and he made one of the best catches I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Facing their first deficit, the Bulldogs started their last drive at the 29-yard line. Freshman linebacker Derrick Mathews stopped running back Lennon Creer on 3rd-and-3. On 4th-and-2, Creer gained a yard but was tackled by senior linebacker Marcus McGraw, turning the ball over on downs and sealing the win.
While the run required an official measurement, McGraw knew the run was well short and was celebrating before the chains were brought out.
“It’s those times when you want to be on the field,” McGraw said. “It couldn’t have been a better situation to put in the defense’s hands. The way we’ve been playing first halves, it was just great to see out there.
“Young pup (Mathews) got the stop on third down. I had to back it up as the old man on 4th down.”
On the Bulldogs’ previous possession, the Cougars (3-0) forced a punt after senior linebacker Sammy Brown sacked quarterback Nick Isham.
The defense was put in difficult situations throughout the course of the game, but as is the story of the Cougars’ season, the unit showed up in key moments.
“That ought to show you something,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “The way it was going it would have been easy for them to wilt.
“For them to have the resolve and come back out and put together the performance they did in the fourth quarter, it says a lot about our team.”
Louisiana Tech (1-2) led 20-7 at halftime and scored 14 points to start the third quarter. The Bulldogs took a 34-7 lead with 5:36 remaining in the third quarter — and that’s when the Cougars went to work.
Three plays and 36 seconds later, UH scored its second touchdown on a 50-yard touchdown throw from Keenum to Edwards. La. Tech punted the ball away on its ensuing possession, and the Cougars struck quickly again.
Keenum then orchestrated a nine-play 64-yard drive that ended in the first of senior running back Bryce Beall’s two touchdowns, trimming the gap to 13.
The Cougars got off to a slow start in their second consecutive road game. Keenum threw two interceptions and Edwards muffed and lost a punt in the first quarter. UH converted four of 15 third downs and was forced to punt seven times. As unorthodox of a win as it was, Sumlin said it will build character for the Cougars.
“We challenge guys personally,” he said. “There was some real soul-searching going on. In those situations, there’s a time to get mad, there’s a time to be angry — but there’s also a time to think rationally about what you’re trying to do. As we talked about at halftime, you can’t get it all back at once. Don’t be frustrated, we got to go one play at time.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this team. We don’t like them, fans don’t like them, but these are the kind of situations that help you grow as a team.”
Sophomore defensive back Zach McMillian exited the game with injury and was replaced by senior Thomas Bates. He recorded two interceptions, the first of his career.
Keenum completed 24-of-38 passes for 346 yards, three touchdwons and two interceptions. He is now the winningest quarterback at UH with 27 wins. He has thrown 116 touchdown passes in his career, tying him for fourth all-time in NCAA history.
Mathews, the true freshman, recorded a career high of 16 tackles.