I-35 Rivalry Renewed

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It’s been a long five years, but Texas State and UTSA will finally get its second toe-to-toe meeting on the gridiron Saturday.

While there may be some dispute over whether this is a legit football rivalry, there is no doubt the other university sports athletes have tasted the bitterness as part of the Orange vs. Maroon Rivalry series – the name of the athletic competitions between the Roadrunners and Bobcats.

The name derives from the Interstate highway, which links the two schools from San Marcos to San Antonio.

In the beginning of the rivalry, a trophy was awarded to the winner of the men’s basketball game. It has grown, however, to include all common sports in which the two schools compete against each other throughout the academic year. A point system is used to crown a winner after the last competition between the schools in that year. The trophy is then inscribed with the annual winners and the winning institution retains the trophy for one year until the next winner is crowned.

The football programs are just catching up to the enmity, beginning with the inaugural HEB I-35 Showdown.

“It’s going to be good for both programs,” Texas State head coach Everett Withers said. “I think when you have programs this close together it’s good. It would be great if we were in the same conference. It would be awesome if they were in the Sun Belt – it would make it even better.

“You have to let it grow. People say ‘start a tradition’ but you don’t start traditions, they happen and rivalries have to happen. This is the second time that we’ve played. It means a lot because it’s our next ball game. We’re going to look at it like it’s the biggest ball game that we’re going to ever play.”

In the first meeting, the Bobcats fell 38-31 back on Nov. 24, 2012 in the Alamodome in San Antonio. State will look to even the score at home this time.

Texas State enters the “Showdown” looking for its second home win of the season and improve its record to 2-2 after a 20-13 loss to Appalachian State in a thrilling game that came down to the last play when the Bobcats fell half a yard and an extra point from tying the game as time ticked down to 0:00.

Withers’ team leads the Sun Belt Conference and is ranked 12th nationally in rushing defense after surrendering an average of 88.7 yards in its first three games. The Bobcats held the Mountaineers to 116 yards rushing after allowing just 91 yards at Colorado and Houston Baptist to 59 yards.

“I’m very proud of our football players and program,” Withers said. “The way we prepared for the week, we knew we had a big challenge coming in with our conference co-champion, App State. I felt like we came out and battled for 60 minutes. We came up a little short, but I’m proud of our guys. I think we played a pretty competitive ball game. It was a physical ball game. Our goals were to limit the run game and harass the quarterback and we were able to do those two things.”

After the game, sitting in the locker room Withers preached to his team about taking this game experience and “enhance” it to be a better team next week.

“I think we’re trending up,” he said. “One thing that can help us is staying healthy. But as far as attitude and effort from our football team we’re very pleased and feel like we’re right on schedule where we need to be.”

As for the Roadrunners, Withers describes them as a talented, big and physical football team with a depth chart stocked with juniors and seniors. He likens UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm to the challenge Colorado presented with its dual-threat star, Steven Montez.

“They are well coached, they play hard and have a talented quarterback, running back and middle linebacker,” Withers said. “(Sturm) is almost like a dual-threat guy. He can throw it, but if he gets out he can take it the distance and score with it. We have to do a good job of protecting the edges and if he’s going to escape, make him escape to the inside. We have to do a great job in coverage to make him hold the ball so we can get some pressure.”

On offense, the Bobcats will continue to institute the run game as the blueprint to defeat UTSA. Thus far this season opposing teams have tried to force Texas State quarterback Damian Williams to beat them with his arm.

Through three games the Bobcats have rushed for 372 yards as opposed to Williams airing out 490 yards on 47-of-79 passing attempts.

“I’m sure we’re going to see a lot of man coverage on the outside of the field,” Withers said. “Our job is to establish the run game.”

To defeat its foe just 53.5 miles between campuses and really make this a rivalry, Texas State’s students and fans need to show up in droves.

“It needs to be a sellout,” Withers said. “We need all our students there at the ball game. If we want to make it a rivalry, we’ve got to sell the game out – that’s really important.”

Kickoff is slated for 6:30 p.m. and can be viewed on local television in Austin (KEYE-TV) and San Antonio (WB35), on ESPN 3 and heard on AM 1300 The Zone in Austin, 89.9 FM in San Marcos and 930 AM The Answer in San Antonio.

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