Jones kick return lifts Cougars past SMU

By Tyler Tyre, Sports Editor
Posted 10/30/21

“I didn’t think they were going to kick it to me,” Jones said. “So whenever I saw them kick it I just thought ‘I’m going to return it.’ The coaches always talk about hitting the hole wherever it is and I saw the hole so I just hit it.”

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Jones kick return lifts Cougars past SMU

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With the University of Houston tied with SMU and under 30 seconds remaining, Marcus Jones took things into his own hands.

The senior cornerback and return man for the Cougars took a kickoff from his own endzone and navigated the field to return it for a touchdown, giving the Cougars a 44-37 win over SMU on Saturday at TDECU Stadium.

“I didn’t think they were going to kick it to me,” Jones said. “So whenever I saw them kick it I just thought ‘I’m going to return it.’ The coaches always talk about hitting the hole wherever it is and I saw the hole so I just hit it.”

It was a last second victory that saw Houston overcome blowing a 17-point lead before answering back, and Marcus Jones made the two biggest plays on the night, scoring the game winning touchdown on the kick return and recording an interception in the fourth quarter to halt a big SMU drive.

“I keep saying it, but hes the best returner in the country,” said Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen. “He was an All-American last year and he’s better this year. I’m getting to the point where I may call him the best returner ever, the things he does is unbelievable. He’s a special young man, a special player and a special person.”

It was also a career night for Clayton Tune, who threw for a career best 412 yards and broke his career high with four touchdown passes in the win.

Receiver Nathaniel Dell had a huge game as well, catching nine passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns.

“I’m really happy with the performance and the way the guys around me played,” Tune said. “The line blocked well, the receivers made a lot of plays. Tank’s (Dell’s) stat line was crazy. I’m just really happy with everyone.”

Tune started the game hot, as he found Jeremy Singleton for a 55-yard pass on the Cougars opening drive to get the team into the redzone. Tune then connected with Nathaniel Dell on a 7-yard touchdown pass to give Houston a seven-point lead, and Tune connected with Dell again on the next drive on a 48-yard touchdown pass. Dalton Witherspoon kicked a 50-yard field goal to make it a 17 point game.

Then came shades of the Texas Tech game, as SMU started to go on a run.

SMU went on a 7 play drive which ended with a 43-yard touchdown pass from Tanner Mordecai to get on the board. Houston got another field goal, but SMU responded as Mordecai threw a 50-yard touchdown to Tre Siggers. After a Houston fumble, SMU went on a 7 play, 35-yard drive to tie things up. Witherspoon kicked a 30-yard field goal to give the Cougars the lead heading into halftime, despite Houston outgaining SMU 332-183 in the first half, they led by just three.

“That game against Texas Tech was a wake up call and now we’ve rattled off seven in a row,” Holgorsen said. “SMU finished in that second half against TCU earlier this year and this was that same type of game. This was our way of being able to get that back and I’m just proud of our football team.”

Houston and SMU traded scores as there was four lead changes to start the second half, before Jones made an interception with under 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, giving the Cougars a chance to take a two possession lead, but went three-and-out. From there it became a slugfest in the final minutes of the game as both teams defenses forced stops, but SMU mounted a 10-play, 58 yard drive and tied it on a 45-yard field goal from Blake Maza. But Houston wasn’t done. On the ensuing kickoff, Jones took the return for the touchdown, giving Houston the win.

“It felt so good,” Dell said. “We work so hard and we’ve preached all these weeks about starting strong and finishing strong. We knew we would have to compete with them and finish so everyone with what happened at the end there was just really excited.”

The Cougars will travel to Florida next week to take on The University of Southern Florida.

“It’s just another game, we have to do what we’ve been doing,” Dell said. “I’m just hoping to keep playing my best and make it my best game and do what I can do to help the team.”

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