FOOTBALL: Cougars outlast Red Raiders
Case Keenum has a knack for fourth-quarter comebacks.
The Associated Press No. 17 Cougars were on the brink of losing their national ranking and undefeated season before they went on a 16-play, 95-yard drive to earn a 29-28 victory over Texas Tech on Saturday. Like a scripted ending, the junior quarterback scampered four yards for the game-winning score with 49 seconds left.
The defense did its part on the next possession, as Taylor Potts’ desperation throw was knocked down short of the endzone as time expired. After that, a solid portion of the Robertson Stadium record crowd of 32,114′ stormed the field to celebrate.
‘To me, it’s a great victory in light of what was happening in our stadium,’ head coach Kevin Sumlin said. ‘We didn’t play our best tonight, but a lot of that had to do with the other team.’
Keenum, who completed 38 of 58 passes for 435 yards, was his usual calm self before, during and after the game. He said the last drive of the game was purely reactionary.
‘You’re past the point of thinking and nerves,’ Keenum said. ‘(We’ll soak’ in the win) after the season. We just have to go out there and play hard.’
UH (3-0)’ trailed 21-13 at the half, but took the second-half kickoff down to Tech’s 27 before the drive ended when Jordan Mannisto misfired on a’ 44-yard field-goal attempt.
The defense was able to contain the Red Raiders (2-2)’ on the next possession, and the Cougars’ offense took full advantage. A seven-play 87-yard drive, capped by a running back Bryce Beall’s one-yard rushing score, narrowed the gap to 21-20 with 7:13 left in the third quarter.
Tech wasted less than three minutes before upping its lead to 28-20, as Potts connected with wide receiver Tramain Swindall on an 11-yard touchdown. Swindall could have been stopped short of the endzone, but three UH defenders were unable to complete the tackle.
UH’s defense created a much-needed turnover when running back Eric Stephens fumbled at the Cougars’ 31 with 3:15 remaining in the third quarter. The offense’ followed by’ marching 69 yards in 11 plays before settling for a 22-yard field goal from Mannisto. This cut the Red Raiders’ lead to 28-23 with 12 seconds left before the final period.
The Cougars appeared to have caught another break on Tech’s next possession when linebacker Matt Nicholson picked off a Taylor Potts pass near midfield, but the interception was revoked because of a hands-to-the-face penalty on defensive end Tyrell Graham. The Red Raiders almost made good use of this miscue, but UH’s defensive line kept the them from scoring on a fourth-and-goal from the Cougars’ 1.
This proved to be the play of the game for UH’s’ defense.
The Cougars’ looked to reclaim the lead on the ensuing drive, but Keenum was intercepted by safety Will Ford at Tech’s 34 with 7:12 left in the game.
The Red Raiders were unable to put the game away on the next possession, as it stalled at the Cougars’ 48. Tech did put UH in a tight spot, however, as Ryan Erxleben’s punt was downed at the Cougars’ 5 with 5:47 remaining.
From there, UH rode Keenum’s arm and a wave of energy to its third victory of the season.
The celebration can continue for the fans, but Sumlin and his players are still aware of next week’s conference opener at UTEP.
‘(All the games) are big,’ Sumlin said. ‘As you win, every game becomes bigger. The next game is bigger than the last game.
‘That’s the price of poker.’
For the Cougars, things went smoother in the first’ quarter of’ Saturday’s’ game.
UH jumped out to a 7-0 lead on its opening possession when Keenum hooked up with wide receiver James Cleveland for a 6-yard touchdown pass with 10:43 remaining in the first quarter. The drive started after David Hunter stripped the ball from Tech quarterback Taylor Potts.
The touchdown marked’ Keenum’s 19th consecutive game with a touchdown pass. He passed Andre Ware, who held the previous record with 18, for tops in school history.
Tech quickly countered, going 69 yards in six plays before running back Baron Batch waltzed into the endzone from 6 yards out with 6:59 left in the opening quarter. This would be a forerunner of what was to come for the Cougars’ defensive line, which’ struggled to answer’ the stronger Red Raiders offensive line.
UH had a chance to respond on its next possession, but Mannisto’s 40-yard field-goal attempt’ missed wide right. After the Cougars and Tech traded punts on the next five possessions, Mannisto earned redemption by nailing 30-yard field goal that gave UH a 10-7 lead with 8:52 left in the second quarter.
In the second quarter, the Red Raiders began to overpower the Cougars by revving up their running game. With 5:59 remaining before halftime, Batch marched 11 yards for a touchdown that gave Tech a 14-10 advantage. This capped a seven-play, 85-yard drive that featured five rushes.
Texas Tech upped its lead to 21-10 on its next possession, as Harrison Jeffers scored a 13-yard rushing touchdown with less than a minute before the break.
After the Red Raiders’ kicked the ball out of bounds on the ensuing kickoff, UH was set up at its own 40. Three plays later, Keenum connected with Sims on a 26-yard pass that put the Cougars in field-goal range.
UH displayed terrible clock management after this play, refusing to use either of’ its two remaining timeouts before settling for a 50-yard field goal attempt. Mannisto drove it low, but true with no time remaining to cut the halftime deficit to 21-13.
For more on this game, read Monday’s edition of The Daily Cougar.