The Houston Cougars had just stopped the Texas Tech Red Raiders on a fourth and inches at the goal line. The score was 28-23 Tech, and there was just a little over seven minutes remaining in the game. The Cougar offense was driving. With the ball on the 49-yard line, Cougar QB Case Keenum dropped back and threw a pass in the direction of Tim Monroe, only Tech's Will Ford got in the way, intercepting the ball and giving the ball back to the Tech offense.
"We've got plenty of time," Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin told the dejected Keenum after the play. "You're going to have an opportunity to win this game. That's a whole lot more interesting than just winning it right now with seven minutes to go."
And with 5:47 remaining in the game, the Cougar offense did get the ball back, this time on their five yard line. Sixteen plays later, with 49 seconds remaining on the clock, Keenum, cradling the football, fell into the end zone, scoring the touchdown that put the Cougars up 29-28.
Then as a Tech Hail Mary pass fell incomplete and the clock hit all zeroes, the Cougars stormed the field, and having overcome some bad clock management and some ill-advised penalties, found themselves 3-0 on the season and pushing themselves deeper into the conscious of the college football nation.
"Honestly, I wasn't watching," linebacker Marcus McGraw said of Keenum's touchdown. "I just kind of looked at the crowd. When you hear the roar of the crowd you know it was a touchdown. I didn't even know what happened. I thought that [running back Bryce Beall] might have even scored the touchdown."
"I couldn't watch that," defensive tackle David Hunter said. "It was a very nervous moment. I was praying we would score a touchdown."
The Cougars stormed out to the 7-0 lead after Hunter sacked Tech QB Taylor Potts, forcing a fumble which he recovered at the Tech 34-yard line just 1:04 into the first period. Keenum found receiver James Cleveland in the end zone eight plays later. And it looked like the Cougars were going to roll to victory. Only Texas Tech had different plans, and by the end of the first half, the score was 21-13 Tech, with the Cougars lucky to have put a Jordan Mannisto 50-yard field goal on the board as time ran out due to some bad clock management.
But as the second half progressed, the heat and humidity started getting to the Tech defenders, and the Cougar offense started moving up and down the field as Tech lost players to cramps. Still, if the Cougar defense didn't stop Tech on the fourth and goal, the Cougars would probably have lost and have fallen out of the national conscious.
"The defense did a great job all night," Keenum said. "When we needed stops, they had them."
"The defenses [of both teams] had to be opportunistic," Sumlin said. "Our defense, for the second game in a row, was not the greatest defense. But when we asked them to make some critical stops, they did it."
When the defense needed to come through, it did. And when the offense needed to come through, it did. And the Cougars got the win 29-28. But though he was happy with the win, Sumlin had some words of warning for his team, and for those teams the Cougars still have to face: "We can play better, and we're going to have to to accomplish the things we're going to accomplish."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
Playing imperfect football has got the Cougars to a 3-0 record. Their next chance for a perfect game comes in El Paso on Saturday when they take on the UTEP Miners.
After Saturday night's win, the Cougars moved up to Number 12 in the AP rankings and to Number 15 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll... The crowd of 32,114 was the largest crowd in Robertson Stadium history... Keenum's first quarter TD pass made for his 19th straight game with a TD pass. This is a new UH record. Keenum has also thrown for 300-plus yards 16 times in his career, which is tied with David Klingler for second all-time with the Cougars... The players attributed their stamina at the end of the game to Strength & Conditioning coach Larry Jackson. "I told him [coach Jackson] today," Marcus McGraw said, "you bust our tails every day in the spring and off season and we're going to give it back to you today."... Jordan Mannisto's 50-yard field goal at the end of the first half was a career best.