The Bearkats found a way to get it done.
Back at Bowers Stadium after a long road trip to New Mexico, Sam Houston and UTSA were locked in a game dominated by defense Saturday. First downs and points came at a premium in this one.
The 16th-ranked Bearkats made enough big plays on both sides of the ball in the second half and prevailed 22-7.
"I think it was good for us, especially being the fourth game of the season," said Bearkats running back Tim Flanders, who finished with 91 yards on 27 carries. "At the same time, this just shows us what we can work on. Every game can't be a blowout. We can't run the ball against every team. Teams are going to do different things to try and stop us."
Sam Houston, which improved to 4-0 overall, led by as much as 15 in the third quarter, but UTSA wouldn't go away. The Roadrunners (2-3) capitalized in the fourth after a Bearkats offside penalty negated a would-be turnover on downs and punched it in on a quarterback sneak by Eric Soza to pull back to within a score.
With a little more than eight minutes to play, the Kats needed to come up with something dynamic in order to keep some distance between them and the Roadrunners.
After throwing downfield twice to no avail, Sam Houston found an opening in the UTSA defense. With defenders backpedalling, quarterback Greg Sprowls, filling in for Brian Bell who was held out of the game with concussion-like symptoms, pitched a shovel pass to Flanders, who took it 45 yards down to the Roadrunner 10.
The next play, Flanders got turned around on a sweep, then reversed field and took it in for a score, thanks to a menacing block by lineman Kaleb Hopson.
With plenty of time left to overcome a two-score deficit, the Bearkats stopped the Roadrunners on fourth down and later sealed the win after defensive back Kenneth Jenkins picked off his second pass of the day.
Senior Greg Sprowls, who has been the Bearkats' backup quarterback the last three years, got his chance to step in at quarterback and Sam Houston tested the Roadrunners secondary early.
"We thought they were susceptible to throwing it over the top. We knew they were going to pack the box and we just didn't hit a lot of those throws," Sam Houston head coach Willie Fritz said.
The Kats' passing game, however, was not effective, and their offensive production suffered. On three of Sam Houston's first five possession, the Kats were forced to punt after going three-and-out.
Sam Houston's inability to move the ball allowed UTSA to key on Flanders.
"They didn't get out of position very often and we tried to do different things. They were in position and didn't allow many big plays," Fritz said.
Though the Kats had trouble getting into a rhythm offensively, the defense picked up the slack.
"Our quarterback was injured and we knew that we had to take this and put the team on our shoulders and lead them," Sam Houston linebacker Will Henry said. "We knew that to win this game, the defense was going to have to play a major role. We took advantage of the opportunity."
Following a safety late in the first quarter, thanks to pressure on Soza from defensive linemen Preston Sanders and Jarrett Brown, the Kats grabbed some momentum just before halftime.
With a little more than three minutes to go in the second quarter, Jenkins picked off Soza.
Two plays later, Flanders reeled in a one-handed, juggling catch from Sprowls, which put Sam Houston inside the 10 for the first time.
The Kats converted for a score as sophomore Richard Sincere rolled out of the pocket and found running back Keyshawn Hill in the end zone to take an 8-0 lead into the break.
Sam Houston continued its ball-hawking ways in the second half. After forcing the Kats to punt following a 30-yard drive, UTSA gave the ball right back.
The Roadrunners threatened to move into Bearkat territory, but running back Chris Johnson had the ball jarred loose by Brown and safety Mike Littleton came up with the ball.
Sam Houston didn't waste any time. On the next play, the Kats caught the UTSA defense off guard with a fake option and pitched the ball to Torrance Williams on a reverse. Williams streaked down the sideline, made a defender miss, then took it to the house.
"It's good to take a shot after a turnover. Our defense got that for us," Williams said. "After that, we called a reverse and it was there. We couldn't have asked for any better blocking. I made one cut and that was it.
"The game's all about momentum and when you get a play like that, everybody on our sideline got more confidence and we were ready to execute on all three sides of the ball."
The Roadrunners totaled 246 yards, but it was the Kats' suffocating defense creating turnovers that kept UTSA from making it more of a game.
"We've been harping on turnovers and takeaways all year on defense," Henry said. "Today we came up big. They carried the ball loose and the quarterback threw the ball up in the air for our DBs to come and get it."
The Bearkats can now turn their attention to continuing league play, and more importantly taking on archrival Stephen F. Austin in the 86th "Battle of the Piney Woods" presented by YP.com in Houston. Kickoff at Reliant Stadium Saturday is set for 2 p.m.
Some tickets still remain and are available on line now at www.gobearkats.com/tickets or are on sale Monday at the Bearkat athletic ticket office at the Ron Mafrige Field House at Bowers Stadium. Ticket office hours Monday through Friday are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The ticket office telephone is (936) 294-1729.