BIRMINGHAM – The full book is not closed on Bryant Vincent’s season as the interim head coach at UAB. A chapter did close on Saturday, though, as the Blazers finished play at Protective Stadium with a dominant second half and a three-game-losing-streak-busting 41-21 victory over a North Texas team trying to play its way into the Conference USA championship.
Vincent, still wet from a postgame cooler bath on a chilly early evening, was asked to take a moment to reflect. His answer came quickly and without rehearsal.
“This team has taught me that perseverance, character, just toughness and love is undefeated, just undefeated,” Vincent said. “It’s not easy. This hasn’t been easy. Anything worth having is never easy. But, just the love for each other, just the character and perseverance. And, just what you stand for. If you don’t stand for something, you don’t stand for nothing. This team and this program stands for something. We take pride in how we play, we take pride in how we act, we take pride in playing for each other. And we just take pride in playing for Birmingham. The character and the perseverance of this team, I’ll never forget.”
Saturday was a perfect example of what he was talking about.
UAB (5-5 overall, 3-4 C-USA) started quickly – making a big play on the third snap of the game when cornerback Devodric Bynum came on a blitz and knocked the ball loose from North Texas quarterback Austin Aune. Kelle Sanders jumped on the loose ball at the North Texas 16-yard line. Six plays later, DeWayne McBride’s tackle-breaking 3-yard touchdown run gave UAB a 7-0 lead. Seven minutes later, McBride scored on a 1-yard run, capping a drive that was fueled by fellow running back Jermaine Brown, Jr., to give UAB a 14-0 lead.
Then adversity introduced itself to the Blazers. In almost dizzying fashion, the Mean Green (6-5, 5-2) scored 21 unanswered points to rip away the momentum. One of the touchdowns came on a short drive after the Blazers failed on a 4th-and-1 from their own 34-yard line.
UAB managed to trim the deficit to 21-17 at halftime on a 24-yard field goal by Matt Quinn with 1:49 remaining in the half.
The second half, from a UAB perspective, was a thing of beauty. The defense held one of the most explosive offenses in the conference without a point. The offense used the 1-2 punch of Brown and McBride to move up and down the field and a 76-yard catch-and-run by Tejhaun Palmer on a 3rd-and-9 pass from Dylan Hopkins may have been the single most important play of the game.
“That’s something we practiced in fall camp, before the season started,” Bynum said. “We all knew we were going to face adversity this year. It’s something we practiced on, just keep our head down and grind. No bad plays, everybody be positive, one play at a time.”
Quinn’s 39-yard field goal on the opening drive of the second half trimmed the deficit to a point. After a defensive stop, when Fish McWilliams stuffed Aune for no gain on 3rd-and-2, UAB faced a 3rd-and-9 from its own 18-yard line. Hopkins hit Palmer on a slant pattern and let his receiver do the rest. Palmer quickly split two defenders, headed to the home sideline and didn’t stop until he was dragged down at the Mean Green 7-yard line. Three plays later, Hopkins and Trea Shropshire connected on a 2-yard scoring pass.
“I thought it was critical, it might have been the play of the game,” Vincent said. “We’re down, it’s 3rd-and-9 and to catch that [pass], not only to get the first down, but to finish the play. He ripped it right through there, it really changed the momentum and got things going on how we finished in the second half.”
A big part of the finish was a running game that produced 271 yards on the night. Brown and McBride, who was wearing a boot this week because of a sprained ankle, took turns running through the holes provided by the UAB offensive line and getting into the end zone. Each of them scored a touchdown in the final eight minutes. When it was all said and done, Brown had 150 yards on 24 carries and McBride had 120 yards on 21 carries. McBride’s three touchdowns gave him 17 rushing touchdowns on the season, which is a school record.
“I’m giving a big shoutout to my offensive line,” said Brown. “They start the train and I just cut and be decisive after that."
Defensively, the Blazers limited North Texas to 105 yards on the ground and 264 overall. North Texas came into the game averaging 218 yards on the ground and 503 yards overall.
When it was done, the Blazers celebrated with 21 seniors, who closed out their time at home with a win.
“We wanted to finish and send these seniors out,” Vincent said. “These 21 seniors have done so much for this program and really held this thing together throughout the season. Look, in today’s society, you go through what we’ve went through this year, a lot of close losses, in my opinion, 8 out of 10 teams, they’re going to go in the wrong direction. We grew closer, we grew stronger, we refused to change and we continued to stay the course in what we believe in.”
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