Those Were The Days - UTSA

Sep 3, 2021

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Obviously, Illinois has never played UTSA. Their first-ever game was in September of 2011, and I mean first-ever. This was not a Division II or FCS school that decided to make the leap to Division I. They had no football program at all, and then, in 2011, boom, new Division I football program.

So this week Detlef takes us back 30 years to my freshman year on campus. 30 years. I had just moved into Forbes Hall THIRTY YEARS ago.

I remember everything about the game he covers below. It was late September, my parents came up for the game, and I tried not to let it show but I really needed some "everything will be fine" from my parents. Month away at school, small town kid on the big campus - really helpful to touch base with mom and dad that first year. I could claim "I'm so happy to be freeee" all I wanted but when that first semester began to overwhelm, I really needed that Saturday where they came up to the game and bought me some stuff for my dorm room. Parents are the best.

Anyway, this is just my intro. You're hear to read Detlef's thoughts. Here's D:

Illinois hosts the mighty Roadrunners of Texas San-Antonio (UTSA) in a classic trap game for Illinois. Illinois hosted Nebraska in Bret Bielema's first game, a conference game no less, last week. Next week, Illinois travels to Virginia. I realize every game for Illinois is a trap game. My point is that Illinois cannot overlook UTSA who made a bowl game last year. I'll be in Vegas betting big on Illinois! This week's story recalls when Illinois hosted a team from Texas and turned that squad into burnt Texas Toast.

September 21, 1991: On a warm September day before an ABC television audience, Illinois hosted the high-powered Houston Cougars. Illinois lost the prior week at Missouri 23-19. Houston got killed at Miami by a score of 40-10 in its prior game so both teams desperately wanted to win. Many highlights of this game are on YouTube with Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf on the call!

The Illini fired first on their opening possession of the game when Jason Verduzco hit Gus Palma on a 37-yard TD pass for a 7-0 advantage. Houston tried something different on offense with its quarterback, future NFL first-round draft pick David Klingler, operating in the shotgun formation. Houston answered with a 23-yard field goal from Roman Anderson, and Illinois took control from there.

Verduzco hit Palma on a 21-yard scoring strike over the middle early in the second quarter, capping an 89-yard, 12-play drive that took 5:12 off the clock. Kameno Bell (Chicago Whitney Young) scored his first touchdown run with 6:57 left until halftime to cap another lengthy drive and build the lead to 20-3.

Illinois, which controlled the ball for 21:04 of the first half, started the second half right where it left off. Verduzco hit Palma on a post pattern for a 40-yard touchdown on the Illini's first possession of the third quarter. Clinton Lynch went up the middle for his 50-yard touchdown run with 7:39 left in the third, breaking one tackle on the way, for a 34-3 Illinois advantage.

Klingler, who also was held to one TD pass in Houston's loss to Miami, hooked up with John Brown III on a 15-yard scoring strike with 38 seconds left in the third quarter for Houston's only TD of the game. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Joe Muti (Loyola Academy) carried off left tackle for his 57-yard TD run, and Bell followed with his second touchdown from one yard out with 11:25 left to make the score 48-10. Chris Richardson added a 27-yard field goal to cap the scoring at 51-10. Boggle!

Verduzco finished with 16 completions in 22 attempts for 341 yards, the third straight game he has surpassed the 300-yard mark. Houston's Heisman Trophy candidate, David Klingler, completed 30 of 58 passes for 332 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions, his first interceptions of the season. 'It wasn't me against him. A lot of people tried to make it that way,' Verduzco said. 'It was our team against their team. Our offense did great and our defense did great.'

Verduzco directed five scoring drives of 69 yards or more -- 89, 70, 69, 89 and 96. 'Jason reminds me of (1984 Heisman winner) Doug Flutie in the brief period of time I had to coach Doug in pro football,' said Houston Coach John Jenkins. His competitiveness, his size, maneuverability and making plays -- they've got a real fine performer right here.' Illinois rushed for 304 yards, led by Lynch's career-best 107 yards on 14 carries. Lynch also caught three passes for 85 yards. Bell rushed for two touchdowns and 69 yards on 17 carries. Palma caught five passes for a career-best 118 yards.

'I don't think we could ever have asked our team to play better,' Illinois Coach John Mackovic said. 'We executed, we had very few mistakes in the game. We asked our team for a championship game because we knew if we did not come up to that level we would not have as good a chance to win, and we got that. I think this may be the best performance we've asked our team to give us any time in the four years we've been here.'

John Mackovic left after the last regular season game in 1991. He was replaced by…..Lou Tepper a/k/a Coach Death Penalty. Kameno Bell finished the season with 664 rushing yards and 503 receiving yards and was named team MVP. He is now an Emergency Medicine Physician at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, treating COVID patients. (Here's Dr. Kameno Bell on SportsCenter last year discussing the outbreak of COVID in New York & New Jersey.)

Sources: UPI archives, YouTube. "Kameno Bell, A True American Hero" by Mike Pearson for


reykjavik2020 on September 3, 2021 @ 11:30 AM

Sorry we lost Coach Mackovic to the Texas job at the end of the regular season, both for the long term and because I can't imagine a team he coaches would have lost 6-3 in the John Hancock Sun Bowl the way Illinois did that December under Tepper.

ILLhaveaBrewski on September 3, 2021 @ 01:14 PM

Don’t remember Gus Palma and he had 3 tds that game. Cool to see the update on Kameno Bell!

Douglascountyillinifan on September 3, 2021 @ 01:24 PM

my then gf/now wife and I were in the East grandstands, and it was so hot that we left early for Tumble Inn. A decision that I still don't regret! I was a lobster that day.

HailToTheOrange on September 3, 2021 @ 01:34 PM

my sophomore year! miss those days :)

snag95 on September 4, 2021 @ 08:15 AM

My freshmam year in the Marching Illini, this brought back a lot of memories!

CapitalCityOutlaw50 on September 4, 2021 @ 08:48 AM

Thus started my "Verduzco for Heisman" campaign.

Illinimac68 on September 4, 2021 @ 08:52 AM

The next year at the return game Houston won. They had an 11 point lead with the clock running down but instead of running the clock out they threw a bomb for another touchdown, apparently payback for the beating they had taken in 91. IIRC it was reported that Tepper called Gary Moeller, then coaching Michigan, and had a bit of a discussion since Michigan was Houston's next opponent. Michigan curbstomped Houston in the Big House 61-7. Moeller had no particular love for Illinois but was apparently annoyed at the low-rent move by Houston the week before.

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