UAB’s return to the football field has been quite the roller coaster ride.
The Blazers have lost on a two-point play in overtime and won with an end-of-game blocked field goal. In fact, the Blazers’ first four Conference USA games since the program’s forced two-year hiatus have all gone down to the last play and been decided by a combined seven points.
UAB (4-3, 2-2 C-USA) is coming off a 25-24 loss to previously winless Charlotte , which won on a two-point conversion in overtime.
”You can imagine how difficult that was to deal with as players and coaches,” Blazers coach Bill Clark said. ”We are trying to put that one to bed even though it’ll be tough to forget about.”
Most of UAB’s endings have been memorable leading up to Saturday’s game at league rival Southern Miss. That’s the last team Clark & Co. faced in the 2014 finale. UAB won to become bowl eligible for the first time in a decade, then the university shut the program – along with rifle and bowling – down citing the financial burden.
No other FBS team has had four conference games decided by fewer than 10 points this season.
The program was resurrected some six months after the shutdown following an outpouring of financial support. Clark and his staff spent the past two years building up a roster with signing classes and ultra-patient holdovers like linebacker Tevin Crews, defensive lineman Shaq Jones and safety Jordan Petty.
Quarterback A.J. Erdely and top receiver Andre Wilson are junior college transfers and leading rusher Spencer Brown is a freshman.
This season was bound to have some growing pains and surprises, but there have also been a string of wild finishes – both good and bad.
Defensive lineman Stacy Keely blocked a 30-yard field goal on the final play to preserve UAB’s 23-22 win over Louisiana Tech.
”Man, who could have scripted that?” Petty said. ”It just shows the amount of fight that we have in our guys, the leadership. We’ll go all the way down to the wire every time if we have to.”
UAB had a fourth-quarter field goal and a last-drive defensive stand in a 25-23 victory over Middle Tennessee.
North Texas won 46-43 on Trevor Moore’s 27-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining. The Blazers had twice rallied from 16-point deficits.
Against Charlotte, Hasaan Klugh ran for a touchdown and caught the 2-point conversion on a flea flicker.
Clark has some experience in these scenarios. His Jacksonville State team in 2013 had three straight overtime games, winning two of them.
”It is hard on you emotionally,” Clark said. ”As a coach and as a player you just have to be resilient.”
The Blazers have enjoyed more support than ever since the restart. UAB set a school-record with 45,212 fans for the opener against Alabama A&M. In four games at Legion Field, UAB’s drawing an average of 30,631.
That’s nearly triple the average from Garrick McGee’s final season four years ago (10,548), when Petty was a freshman.
”It kind of drove me insane,” Petty said of the turnout back then. ”To see the amount of support we have – even when I’m just out in the city and I have the (UAB) shirt on and people will stop and say, `Go Blazers’ and all that. I’m not used to that.
”After so many months … coach Clark instills in us that we are Birmingham’s team and they really do care about us. It’s awesome to know that we have that fan base, especially in a state that’s so focused on college football.”
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