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Football playing for championship in final C-USA season

Football playing for championship in final C-USA season

Football playing for championship in final C-USA season
December 02
12:00 2022

After a victory over Rice University in its regular season finale — football is heading to its first Conference USA title game since 2017. 

North Texas (7-5, 6-2 C-USA) will face a familiar foe in the University of Texas-San Antonio (10-2, 8-0 C-USA). The Roadrunners are undefeated in their conference schedule and will host Friday’s championship at the Alamodome for the second year in a row. 

“[The team] obviously understands playing a great football team, [they are] the defending champions at their house,” head coach Seth Littrell said. “This is what it is all about — you want to come play college football and have a chance to play in championship games.”

In October, Texas-San Antonio hosted the Mean Green, making Friday a rematch between the two teams. Two scoring drives by either team ended October’s contest. A one-yard touchdown reception by sophomore running back Isaiah Johnson with 1:15 to go gave North Texas a late lead. 

Needing a touchdown to win, the Roadrunners turned to graduate quarterback Frank Harris. Harris drove Texas-San Antonio 75 yards down the field in 83 seconds with 1:30 seconds remaining. A pass to the corner of the endzone found junior receiver De’Corian Clark, which gave the Roadrunners the victory. 

“I was thinking that we should have had them,” Johnson said. “It is what it is, cannot really think about it too much — we are just glad to be playing them again.”

Texas-San Antonio head coach Jeff Traylor said the team “needed” fans at the Alamodome for the championship. October’s contest versus North Texas had 27,122 fans in attendance. Last year’s C-USA championship hosted by the Roadrunners sold out the venue with 41,148. 

Littrell said the Mean Green’s experience from earlier this season in the Alamodome will assist the team.

“It is a great environment — they are going to pack [the stadium] and it will be loud,” Littrell said. “We felt that before, we have played there, so I think it has prepared us for this season. At the same time, it will be even bigger than the last game knowing it is a championship game.”

Freshmen tight end Var’Keyes Gumms scores a touchdown in
a game against the Panthers on Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Marco Barrera

Since he started at North Texas, Littrell has stayed consistent in marking the goal of a conference title for the program. With over a decade in C-USA, a championship has eluded the Mean Green. Littrell has been in control of the team for the team’s last seven seasons. 

“Anytime you have that opportunity to win a championship, it is huge — we all understand that,” Littrell said. “You only get some opportunities, for some of these guys this may be their only opportunity to play in a championship.”

Junior quarterback Austin Aune, in what is believed to be his final season, is one touchdown pass away from the single-season program record. A pass to sophomore running back Ikaika Ragsdale versus the Owls tied Aune with former quarterback Mason Fine for the record. Aune’s 31 touchdown passes on the season places him second in C-USA.

Aune has thrown a touchdown in 11 of North Texas’ 12 games, with the outlier being against Southern Methodist University in September. With two more games to play, Aune has already surpassed his career-highs in passing yards (3,115), games started (12) and completion percentage (57 percent). Littrell said he has been “proud” of Aune this season.

“I think he has grown each and every week — he has put a lot of hard work into it,” Littrell said. “He is playing really good football right now, just the way he is seeing the field, the confidence he has gained throughout each and every week at a high level.”

With both teams set to make a move to the American Athletic Conference in 2023, Friday will be their final matchup in C-USA.

“Texas-San Antonio has a really good team — we get to get their best shots,” senior safety Sean-Thomas Faulkner said. “I think it is great to get back in there and rebound from the last time we played them.”

Featured Image: Sophmore wide reciever Jordan Smart runs past defenders in a game against the Panthers on Nov. 5, 2022. Photo by Marco Barrera

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Reed Smith

Reed Smith

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