UTSA started seven years ago as a “study.”
Saturday, it started with a run, a designed run for Roadrunners quarterback Eric Soza. He was stuffed at the line for no gain.
Six plays and four first down conversions later, Soza had moved the Roadrunners 58 yards down the field, on the cusp of Arizona’s red zone.
Things stalled, though, so UTSA settled for a 34-yard field goal and took a 3-0 lead.
That is, its first-ever lead against a BCS-conference school.
“I think again that drive was a good drive to start the game,” UTSA head coach Larry Coker said. “The thing I didn’t like was that we had to settle for a field goal. We needed to score touchdowns to beat Arizona.”
The lead was short-lived — UA quarterback B.J. Denker passed for a touchdown, ran for another, and Jake Smith kicked a 23-yarder before UTSA scored again on another field goal in the second quarter.
The Roadrunners lost 38-13 in the end, and that 3-0 lead wound up as nothing more than a blip on the Wildcats radar.
From UTSA’s perspective, it was more than a blip.
Seven years ago, the Roadrunners weren’t even a blip on college football’s radar.
In November of 2006, the university hired a consulting firm to conduct a “feasibility study,” to see if adding football to a slate of 16 teams made sense.
Apparently, it did.
The study led to an added $120 student fee — which the students voted on and approved — and eventually the school added an $84 million athletic complex to its campus.
The best break in luck might have come when former Miami Hurricanes head honcho Larry Coker applied for the head coaching job and — shocker — got it.
He had the credentials — three BCS bowl berths and a national championship win, not to mention 60 wins in six seasons at “The U.”
Mention the coach, or the facility, to Soza, and you’re sure to get a smile.
“(Coker) always has your back,” Soza said. “You always wanna play for a coach like that. One that’ll fight for you and fight for what he believes in, and he believes in this program.
"It’s grown every year," he added, "and I’m just blessed to be a part of that.”
Finally, a process that started in February 2006 culminated when the Roadrunners debuted to 56,743 fans at the Alamodome in San Antonio on Sept. 3, 2011.
For their first ever game, they beat Division II Northeastern State 31-3.
Since then, they’ve gone 12-12, including Saturday night’s loss to Arizona.
“Winning football games is tough,” Coker said. “We’re playing good competition, and its only gonna get tougher.”
This year is the first year UTSA has a full slate of FBS opponents.
Last week, UTSA played Oklahoma State and scored 35 points in a 21-point loss. Week one, they beat New Mexico 21-13.
Last year, they went 8-4 and faced seven FBS teams, losing to four. Two teams they beat — New Mexico State and Idaho — finished the year a 1-11 disaster.
Wins came against schools like Northwestern Oklahoma State and Texas A&M Commerce — not exactly Johnny Football-lite.
The Roadrunners won’t even be fully bowl eligible until next year — they can make it this year, but only if there aren’t enough bowl-eligible teams.
UTSA will play Arizona in San Antonio next year and back in Tucson in 2015.
“We left some plays out there,” said Soza, who was 30 of 46 with 277 yards and an interception, “but you gotta play these opponents to see how good you are and what you need to work on. It’s a blessing to be able to come out here and play this game. Playing the ‘big guys’ you learn a lot more, and we’ll learn more from this experience.