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BIRMINGHAM – For the fifth time this season, UAB interim head coach Bryant Vincent looked into the postgame cameras and tried to explain a one-score loss.

One play here, one play there, and it would be an entirely different press conference. Yet, there he was again, this time at Protective Stadium, talking about a heart-wrenching 44-38 double overtime loss to Conference USA unbeaten UTSA.

"I'm extremely proud of this football team, their character, their toughness, their grit," Vincent said. "To continue to come out and just play together, just fight to the end. There's no quit in this football team. This football team loves each other. They play for each other. They play for this university. Defending league champion, undefeated in conference, and took them down to the wire. I just can't say enough good things about this team's character and perseverance."

Truth is, the Blazers, who fell below .500 for the first time since the return in 2017, gave themselves plenty of opportunities to quit on a damp Saturday afternoon. There were way too many pre-snap penalties and busted assignments that helped dig a hole. They were playing with a backup quarterback, and the record isn't what they envisioned it would be.

All of those would be excuses, though.

"We fought, we just didn't quit, that's what it was," said quarterback Jacob Zeno, who has grown immensely as a quarterback since replacing the injured Dylan Hopkins in the first quarter of the Western Kentucky game. "We said on the sidelines we weren't going to quit. It didn't work out how we wanted it to, but we're fighting. We're going to fight the rest of these three games."

Zeno, who was starting his second game, put the Blazers in position to win. He finished 27-of-38 passing for 332 yards with a pair of touchdowns and an interception. He also led the Blazers to a game-tying drive in the final seconds of regulation.

The drive began on the UAB 20-yard line with 1:15 left in the game.

"We knew we had enough time to score," said Vincent, whose team is 4-5 overall and 2-4 in C-USA. "We had to be efficient. We had to go in our two-minute mode. The biggest thing is we wanted to get the party started, is what we say. We wanted to be able to get a positive play to get the drive going because that's the key in a two-minute situation."

Zeno connected with Tejhaun Palmer on 11-yard pass, Jermaine Brown gained eight yards on a run, and Zeno hit Palmer again for 12 yards. Palmer had another reception, this one for six yards, before diving out of bounds. After an incomplete pass, Zeno found Trea Shropshire for a first down and spiked the ball with 21 seconds remaining.

The Blazers' offense then set up the game-tying touchdown.

"As soon as we motioned over, that field safety moved to the middle," Zeno said. "I knew it was going to be one-on-one with Shrop. I did my job. I kept my eyes to the middle of the field to make sure he stayed over and gave him an opportunity."

Shropshire got behind the defensive back, and Zeno delivered a perfect strike for a 38-yard touchdown. Matt Quinn's extra point sent the game into overtime.

UAB had the first overtime possession and scored on an 11-yard pass from Zeno to Palmer. UTSA (7-2 overall, 5-0 C-USA) countered with a short scoring toss from Frank Harris to Tyler Ogle-Kellogg. The Roadrunners scored on the first possession of the second overtime, with Harris and Jordan Cephus connecting on a 14-yard touchdown but failed on the mandated two-point conversion.

UAB's second overtime possession started with DeWayne McBride's rush for no gain, an incomplete pass, and a 6-yard sack. Zeno tried to throw a desperation back shoulder pass to Shropshire at the goal line, but the pass was incomplete.

It ended a day that began with UTSA building a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter. McBride cut into that lead on one play when he burst 68 yards for a score. The teams traded field goals after that, and UTSA led 16-10 at halftime.

UAB's first possession of the second half was a grinding 13-play, 90-yard drive that was a mixture of the pass and the run. It ended with McBride squeezing into the end zone from two yards out, and after Quinn's extra point, the Blazers had their first lead of the day.

UTSA did what good teams do – the Roadrunners responded with the next 15 points to build a 31-17 lead with 8:23 remaining.

UAB responded with a nine-play, 77-yard drive, which began with Zeno passes of 33 yards to Bryce Damous, 15 yards to Shropshire, and 13 yards to Brown. It still took a fourth down conversion pass of 11 yards to T.J. Jones to set up Zeno's 1-yard touchdown run with 4:39 remaining. UAB forced a punt to set up the game-tying score.

McBride had his ninth consecutive 100-yard rushing game, with eight coming this season. He had 141 yards on 19 carries. Palmer had eight catches for 110 yards and Shropshire had seven catches for 97 yards. Linebacker Noah Wilder had 13 tackles with one tackle for loss and Tyler Taylor had nine tackles.  

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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