The old saying of “better late than never” is the best way to describe this years SMU football season.
Trailing Connecticut 20-6 at halftime, a winless season was staring the Mustangs down. But three second-half touchdowns and a school-record, by a quarterback, 191 rush yards from Matt Davis helped SMU erase the deficit and pull out a 27-20 win, the team’s first since Nov. 23, 2013.
“I was just really happy for the kids,” Interim Head Coach Tom Mason said. “We’ve been in a couple games this year that we let slip by us. We finally got this one put away. I’m really proud of the seniors and I’m happy we were able to go out with a win. That locker room made it feel like we won a national championship.”
SMU finished with a 1-11 record and 1-7 in the American Athletic Conference. The Mustangs avoided a last-place finish in the conference because of the tiebreaker with UConn (2-10, 1-7). They ensured that 2003 stands as the only winless season in school history.
Two first-quarter field goals gave SMU an early 6-0 lead, but UConn safety Andrew Adams returned a Darius Durall fumble for a touchdown. Ron Johnson and Max DeLorenzo each rushed for a touchdown to give the Huskies the halftime lead.
“[At halftime] I just told the kids that we were only down by two scores, so let’s go out and finish this thing, and that’s what we did,” Mason said.
The Mustangs responded right away. UConn kick returner Arkeel Newsome fumbled the half-opening kickoff, and SMU recovered at UConn’s 27-yard line. Five plays later, Prescott Line scored from four yards out.
Two Huskies possessions later, receiver DeShonn Fox fumbled and gave SMU the ball at its own 42-yard line. Davis capped the drive with a game-tying 26-yard touchdown run.
“I thought the momentum was going our way, and I felt like we had the answers for them defensively,” Mason said. “They weren’t really throwing at all, and once we got the run game shut down, I felt pretty good.”
UConn mustered just 98 total yards and committed three of its turnovers in the second half. The Huskies lined up for a go-ahead field goal early in the fourth quarter, but Mason Gentry blocked it. SMU turned the block into an eight-play, 70-yard drive that ended in Line’s 12-yard touchdown run, which put the Mustangs up for good.
“Give credit to SMU for the strain, fight and courage they showed in their program through a challenging circumstance and earning the win,” UConn coach Bob Diaco said.
The Mustangs also drew two illegal formation penalties while lining up in the victory formation. But it’s hard to blame them, as they haven’t had to use it this season.
“Nice to get in one of those for a change,” Mason said.
Saturday’s game was the final game for Mason and the rest of the coaches. Mason served as the Mustangs’ defensive coordinator under June Jones and helped the Mustangs earn four bowl births from 2009 to 2012. Former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris was introduced as SMU’s next coach on Dec. 1.