Associated Press

UAB caps best season in school history with first bowl win

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Sometimes the first play from scrimmage is a mirage for what’s to come, like Ted Ginn, Jr.’s opening kickoff touchdown in the 2007 BCS National Championship. Other times, it tells the entire story.

When Tyler Johnston hit Xavier Ubosi for a 70-yard touchdown pass on the first play of Tuesday night’s Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl, it told you pretty much all you needed to know. Johnston would hook up with Ubosi for two more long touchdown passes throughout the night, and UAB blasted Northern Illinois, 37-13.

The win bolstered what was already the best season in school history for Bill Clark‘s Blazers. Just two years back from the dead, UAB had already secured its first conference championship and its first 10-win season; now, the program has its first bowl win to boot.

The Boca Raton Bowl was one of just three bowl games pitting conference champions against each other, the others being the Orange (SEC vs. Big 12) and Rose (Big Ten vs. Pac-12) bowls.

UAB (11-3) came into the game averaging less than 200 passing yards per game, but the redshirt freshman Johnston went off for easily the best game of his young career, hitting 17-of-28 passes for 373 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. The bulk of the damage went to Ubosi, who snared seven passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns. Ubosi entered the game with 28 grabs for 610 yards and five touchdowns, including four catches for 24 yards in his two most recent games.

After the 70-yard score put UAB up 7-0 (and, it turns out, for good), the Johnston-to-Ubosi connection put the game away for good with 5:11 to go in the second quarter with a 46-yard strike that gave the Blazers a 24-10 lead.

A 66-yard bomb at the 5:15 mark of the third quarter concluded Ubosi’s night and gave UAB a 34-13 lead. Johnston’s other touchdown pass was a 3-yard shovel to running back Spencer Brown at the 12:08 mark of the second quarter, turning a 10-7 UAB lead back into a comfortable 10-point spread.

As the score indicates, Northern Illinois (8-6) struggled to get anything going offensively. Marcus Childers completed 22 of his 29 passes but gained just 179 yards on those completions. NIU entered the night with the nation’s 118th most efficient passing attack, so a 6.2 yards per attempt average wouldn’t necessarily spell doom as long as the Huskies managed to run the ball, but that was a struggle as well. Against UAB’s top-20 rushing defense, NIU mustered just 108 yards on 44 carries. Tre Harbison tied Childers for the team lead with 35 yards (he had a team-high six yards at halftime) and scored the Huskies’ lone touchdown, a 1-yarder to pull them within 10-7 in the final minute of the first quarter.

Given a chance to add a cosmetic score midway through the fourth quarter, Jordan Nettles fumbled a 4th-and-goal run out the side of the end zone.

Big passing plays put UAB up on Northern Illinois

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If UAB was to beat Northern Illinois in the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl on Tuesday night, it was supposed to happen on the ground, where the Blazers’ top-30 running game would grind out an advantage over the Huskies’ No. 3-ranked yards per carry defense to secure a tight, hard-fought win. UAB, with its No. 100-ranked passing offense, certainly wasn’t supposed to go bombs away on the Huskies.

But Bill Clark‘s team flipped that script on the very first play, when Tyler Johnston hit a streaking Xavier Ubosi for a 70-yard touchdown pass.

After a 25-yard Nick Vogel field goal and a Northern Illinois touchdown, UAB pushed its lead back to 10 when Johnston flipped to Spencer Brown for a 3-yard shovel pass score at the 12:08 mark of the second quarter.

Then, after an NIU field goal pulled the Huskies back within a score at 17-10, Johnston again found Ubosi for a long score, this one a 46-yarder, to push UAB in front 24-10.

Johnston is well on his way to his best night of the year, hitting 13-of-20 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns, while Ubosi hauled in six catches for 161 yards and two scores.

Instead of cutting into its 14-point deficit just before the halftime gun, the NIU offense helped increase it. Marcus Childers was sacked and fumbled away the ball at his own 31-yard line with 2:13 left in the half, setting up a 34-yard Vogel field goal to push the UAB lead to 27-10 as the first half expired.

NIU’s touchdown came on a 1-yard Tre Harbison run in the final minute of the first quarter, capping a 9-play, 59-yard drive. He was NIU’s leading rusher with six yards on four carries.

After slow start, UAB takes halftime lead in Conference USA championship game

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Looking for the first conference championship in school history, UAB is leading Middle Tennessee at halftime of the Conference USA championship game, 24-16. UAB had scored 21 straight points in the half before Middle Tennessee closed out the first half with a field goal.

The two teams traded field goals to open the game, and Middle Tennessee tacked on another field goal to take a 6-3 lead on the third offensive possession of the game. Middle Tennessee extended their lead with Brent Stockstill connected with Tavares Thomas on a fourth-and-four play on the UAB 19-yard line for a score.

UAB answered the first touchdown of the game with a touchdown drive of their own. The Blazers took 16 plays to travel 75 yards to get in the end zone. Spencer Brown capped the drive with a two-yard touchdown run to bring UAB within three points after the extra point attempt by Nick Vogel. UAB took the lead with just over four minutes to play in the half with Tyler Johnston finding a streaking Andre Wilson for a 40-yard touchdown.

UAB added to their lead less than a minute later by turning a Stockstill interception into a short touchdown run by Johnston three plays later.

This is certainly still anyone’s game at halftime. UAB will get the ball to start the second half.

With best start in program history, UAB is bowl-eligible for second straight year since return from being shutdown

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It was not so long ago that the UAB football program was seemingly shut down for good, but the Blazers have sure taken advantage of life after death. With their 29-21 victory over North Texas on Saturday, clinched bowl-eligibility for a second straight season after being brought back from their abbreviated hiatus.

Going further, UAB head coach Bill Clark is now three-for-three in putting together a bowl-eligible season at UAB. UAB went 6-6 in Clark’s first season on the job in 2014. UAB did not play in a bowl game, however, as the school announced the program was shutting down at the end of the regular season and no bowl trip would be taken by the program. Clark stuck with the university as it decided to bring the football program back beginning in 2017, and Clark coached the program to a record of 8-5 last season, ending with a loss in the Bahamas Bowl.

UAB is also 10-0 at home since being revived as a program. The 6-1 start is also the best start for the Blazers in program history.

UAB has never played in back-to-back bowl games in program history. The Blazers have only played in two bowl games since 1996, but they are primed to be playing in their third this bowl season.

UAB is now in first place in the Conference USA’s West Division and looking to lock down a division championship next for a chance to capture the Conference USA title for the first time in program history. Not too shabby for a program that was left on the curb just a few years ago.

UAB players wear names of child patients on uniforms

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UAB and North Texas collide today in a pivotal Conference USA matchup between the 6-1 Mean Green (2-1 in Conference USA) and the 5-1 Blazers (3-0 in Conference USA. The matchup alone is enough to carry plenty of importance moving forward as far as the conference championship race is concerned, but today UAB will be doing something that means something more beyond football by paying tribute to patients at Children’s Harbor, a medical center focusing on assisting children and their families dealing with serious illnesses.

Players for UAB will ditch their own names on the back of their jerseys and instead will wear the names of a young patient at Children’s Harbor. It has become a bit of a tradition for the Blazers and is a nice way to be a part of the community since the football program was resurrected.

“It shows the city how appreciative we were when the program shutdown,” UAB wide receiver Collin Lisa said, via Al.com. “It’s not just the university, it’s about the city, the medical center, and all the little kids. It’s way more than just the game of football here.”

A full list of the children each UAB player will be representing today can be found here.