For the first time in 21 games, the CSU football team has a winning record.
Much of the success can be contributed to the Rams defense, which held the Houston Cougars to a season-low 25 points in their 28-25 win Saturday afternoon.
It was the first time in school history that CSU (2-1) defeated Houston, and it couldn’t have been any more picturesque for junior safety Klint Kubiak, who sealed the Rams’ second victory of the season with an interception in the end zone with two seconds left in the game.
“I can’t tell you what it feels like, I don’t even know what to say,” said Kubiak, a native of Houston. “I had a lot of family from Houston that were here tonight and a lot of family listening on the radio at home, but there wasn’t a better way to end it than right there.”
Down by 11 with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, UH (1-3) marched down the field for a 12-play, 80-yard drive. The drive ended with Cougar quarterback Case Keenum taking advantage of a coverage mismatch in the back of the end zone, connecting with the 6-foot-3 L.J. Castille who won the battle over CSU cornerback Gerard Thomas, who stands at 5-foot-9. Down by five, UH elected to go for two and converted, once again going to the same mismatch.
The Rams got the ball back but were forced to punt after a three-and-out, and that’s when things really got interesting. The Cougars started their final drive from their own 32 and swiftly ran a successful two-minute drill to the CSU 15 yard line with only 1:09 left in the game. With third and six staring UH in the face, Keenum took the shotgun snap, looking for Castille over Thomas once again in the back of the endzone, but Keenum was greeted with a surprise.
Thomas intentionally let Castille behind him to give the illusion that he was open, only to be hook-line-and-sinkered by Klint Kubiak, who came over for the game-clinching interception.
“We were in a cover-two, so I was playing deep while he was staying shallow, so it was designed,” said the safety.
The man who called the play was none other than defensive coordinator Larry Kerr.
“We knew it was going to be a battle. We told our guys it was going to be a 60 minute game and it sure was,” said Kerr, who is in his first year back at CSU after spending the last five years at UCLA and Duke.
“That quarterback (Keenum) is unbelievable. Any other quarterback would have been sacked six times. Our front guys were relentless going after him. You still have to give a lot of credit to their quarterback because if it wasn’t for him they would have had a really tough day.”
Also leading the way for the CSU defense were senior strong safety Mike Pagnotta and senior linebacker Jeff Horinek, who each had interceptions on Saturday and combined for 15 tackles.
“It took a team effort today. Our offense did a great job keeping them off the field,” said Pagnotta when asked about holding the Cougars to a season low 473 yards of offense. “We had a couple of turnovers and forced them to a couple three-and-outs, which was huge for us to get our offense back on the field . Championship teams make plays when it counts, so for us to do that and win close games on back-to-back weeks is huge.”
For most fans, watching these close games may cause a lot of stress, but for Horinek, it’s just another day on the gridiron.
“I’ll do that every single game the rest of the way if we have to,” said Horinek. “It doesn’t matter if we win big time, you know, just as long as we win at the end. If we’re gonna win, I’m not gonna be picky.”
Football beat writer Matt Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.