Case Keenum delivered his standard Heisman-worthy performance. Charles Sims continued his fantastic freshman season. James Cleveland and Patrick Edwards caught key touchdown passes. But the Houston Cougars 50-43 last minute win over the Southern Miss Golden Eagles can, perhaps, best be attributed to unheralded senior tight end Fendi Onobun, a transfer from Arizona.
Onobun didn't make a mark by catching any passes from Keenum. He made his mark in the first half on special teams. And he was really special, blocking two Southern Miss extra points, the second of which found the ball winding up in the hands of defensive back Nick Saenz, who then ran it back more than 100 yards to the UH end zone for two points. And suddenly, instead of the score being 21-20 UH deep in the second quarter, it was 23-19 UH.
"It's hard to describe as a coach, to give up a touchdown then change the momentum by blocking an extra point and running it back," head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "That was a momentum changer in the game. I don't know that that's...that's not what we want to do to change the momentum, but I think that says a little bit about our team playing and winning as a team."
Onobun credited his special team's coach, Tony Levine, with making the blocks possible as it was Levine who prepared the scouting report and told him the opportunity would be there. "So I went out there and I just wanted to make something to happen," Onobun said. "And I made it happen."
For most of the rest of the game, the Cougars cruised, and with 6:43 left in the fourth quarter, a 23-yard Matt Hogan field goal had the Cougars up 43-29. But seeing as this is the Cougars, nothing comes easy. Which is why the Cougars found themselves with the score tied 43-43 with just 57 seconds remaining in the game and the Cougars 77 yards from the end zone.
But to Case Keenum, that's nothing special.
"We're kind of always in a hurry-up offense..." Keenum said. "We had three timeouts which helped us out a bunch."
Keenum went five-for-five in those final seconds, and with 21 ticks left on the clock, Keenum lifted a beautiful pass for 28 yards that the wide open Patrick Edwards pulled into his welcoming hands as he crossed the goal line for the game-winning score.
"We weren't going to lose that game," Onobun said. "We were going to do everything in our power, offensively and defensively, to come through. Guys made plays. The rest is on the scoreboard."
The scoreboard had a final score of 50-43 with the Cougars now at 7-1 (3-1) on the season. And Keenum's performance of 44 for 54, 559 yards and five touchdowns was a key contributor to that win. But don't overlook the special teams. Kevin Sumlin sure didn't.
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"I've been saying that for the past three weeks," Sumlin said regarding his special teams. "You don't really notice that until it becomes a close game. Before we came into this game we had blocked a punt. In the last two weeks we've blocked a field goal and returned a kickoff for a touchdown. This wasn't just today. This has been coming."
And it came at just the right time.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:
Keenum's 559 yards were a career high. He's now thrown a TD pass in 24 straight games. And this was the fourth time in his career that he's led a game-winning drive in the game's final minute....Freshman Charles Sims delivered another outstanding performance at running back, rushing for 100 yards on 19 carries, while receiver James Cleveland hauled in 13 passes for 190 yards and two TD. The only truly negative offensive performance of the day came from running back Bryce Beall who fumbled on the day's first offensive play, and who had the fourth quarter fumble that led to Southern Miss's final touchdown. But while praising Sims, coach Sumlin said not to give up on Beall. "Bryce is going to continue to be -- the guy was the newcomer of the year in the league last year, so just because he hasn't been putting up the numbers doesn't mean that anything's wrong with him," Sumlin said. "Charles is playing at a higher level right now. Bryce will be fine. And I guarantee you right now that before the season is out Bryce Beall -- we're going to need him to make plays and he will do that and have a big game."...The Cougars are now ranked 13 in the AP, 15 in the Coaches poll, and 15 in the all-important BCS....Thanks to Saturday losses by Tulsa and UTEP, the Cougars, with a 3-1 C-USA record, are now on top of the C-USA West standings.