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Monday, September 25, 2023


Case in point: Cardiac Cougars do it again

For Case Keenum and the Associated Press No. 12 Cougars, come-from-behind victories are the norm.’

But now they’re coming against competition that receives more respect from media and fans: Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

Saturday’s 29-28 triumph over Tech in front of a Robertson Stadium record crowd of 32,114 had several signs of previous UH victories: A game-winning drive, big defensive stops and a clutch quarterback who refuses to falter under pressure. Head coach Kevin Sumlin has seen this more than he would like, but it means he has a team that believes it can win under almost any circumstances.’

‘Going about last year, we’ve won four or five games in similar fashion,’ Sumlin said. ‘We’ve been in those situations and we don’t want to be in those situations.’

‘We have some playmakers and the game is never over to them. Our team believes that, so we just keep playing.’

At the same time, Sumlin recognizes this victory was about more than Keenum’s game-winning 4-yard rushing touchdown with 49 seconds left in the game.

‘Any time you win a game like that, it’s not just about the last play or drive,’ Sumlin said. ‘There are a whole lot of plays through the course of the game.’

One of those plays was Keenum’s interception with 7:12 remaining in the contest. Luckily for UH (3-0), its defense was ready to stop the Red Raiders (2-2) and get the ball back in the junior quarterback’s hands.

‘I know for a fact that everybody on that field had a passion for the game,’ said defensive tackle David Hunter, who forced and recovered a fumble on the Red Raiders’ opening possession. ‘When we were out there, regardless of whether they were scoring or we were getting stops, we had that mentality that we were going to ‘hellip; stop them.’

Keenum’s pick would have been insignificant if Tech’s offense had more success, but the Cougars’ defense held the Red Raiders to only 7 points in the second half. Although Keenum’s game-winning keeper will see more action on the highlight reels, the defense’s early fourth-quarter goal-line stand may have been the play of the game.

UH was trailing 28-23 in the opening minutes of the fourth when Tech had a first-and-goal on the Cougars’ 7-yard line. After three rushes were snuffed by UH’s linebackers, Tech head coach Mike Leach elected to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1. This time, the defensive line shut the door on Taylor Potts’ quarterback sneak attempt.

Linebacker Marcus McGraw found himself lost in the moment and admitted that he wasn’t sure how close Tech was to possibly putting away the game.

‘At that moment, I just knew we had to make a stop,’ said McGraw, who had a game-high 19 tackles. ‘I honestly didn’t know they were that close to the goal line until we lined up. We just did what we had to do.’

After this stand, Keenum, who completed 38 of 58 passes for 435 yards, proceeded to make his only serious miscue of the night. Sumlin did not panic because he believed his defense would step up again.

‘I said the key of this game was for both defenses to be opportunistic,’ Sumlin said. ‘For the second game in a row, our defense wasn’t the greatest, but when we asked them to make some stops they came through.’

This set the scene for a 16-play, 95-yard drive that ended with Keenum’s dash to the endzone with less than a minute to play. He played like a true leader, scrambling for 10 yards on a third down before hitting wide receiver Patrick Edwards later in the drive for a 7-yard gain on a fourth-and-3.

Although comebacks are not new to Keenum, this one may have been the most exhilarating.

‘If you don’t look forward to that and have some type of nervousness and excitement, then you’re not human,’ said Keenum, who notched his sixth 400-plus yard passing game of his career. ‘We knew if we kept a good tempo, we could move the ball.’

Keenum may have relaxed too much after the eventual game-winner, as the Cougars 2-point conversion attempt ended in an interception. Down only one point, the potent Tech offense needed only a field goal to win.

An exhausted UH defense somehow mustered enough energy to make one last stand. Eight strokes after midnight, cornerback Brandon Brinkley sealed the victory by batting down Potts’ desperation Hail Mary pass as time expired.

Despite the glamour involved in defeating two schools from the Big 12, these wins mean more to the University than the team. The Cougars have yet to begin conference play, and Keenum was quick to remind everyone that his team has at least nine more games on its schedule.

‘We have to take it week by week,’ Keenum said. ‘We put on a show, play hard and have guys who can do pretty cool things with the football. We’ll go out there, play hard and that’s all we can do.’

Although Keenum said the Cougars won’t truly savor this victory until the offseason, he appreciated the atmosphere created by the sellout crowd.

‘It was awesome. I can’t thank the fans enough for coming out and just being loud,’ Keenum said. ‘I thank everybody for coming out, the excitement they showed for the game and all of their support.’

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