Case & the Coogs beat Tech with epic comeback

On September 26, 2009, the University of Houston beat Texas Tech, 29-28, at a sold-out Robertson Stadium. It was perhaps UH’s most exciting win in the 16 years between the Astrodome and TDECU Stadium.

The Texas Tech game in 2009 was a significant event for the Houston Cougars and the city. It was the first time in 18 years that UH had been ranked, coming a week after UH’s improbable win over #5 Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

Tailgating began on Friday afternoon with RVs showing up and fans meeting for drinks, socializing, and talking about their high-powered offense. Could the Cougars beat a Big 12 team for the 2nd week in a row?

The Tech game offered multiple fascinating layers:

  • The game was the first against Texas Tech since the break-up of the Southwest Conference;
  • After the Oklahoma State win, national talk included UH breaking into the BCS. If the Coogs could beat Tech, their chances would greatly increase;
  • Cougar fans sold out Robertson Stadium eight days before the game, even before UH’s win at Oklahoma State. It was the first sellout in Robertson Stadium history;
  • Tech coach Mike Leach was featured on the cover of the current Texas Monthly. The odd yet fascinating Tech coach had gone mainstream.

Opening Kickoff – 8:27 p.m.

Texas Tech received the opening kick but fumbled on the 3rd play of the game. Taking over at the Tech 34, Keenum led an 8-play drive ending in a six-yard touchdown pass to James Cleveland, the first TD catch of his career.

Tech scored on the next drive to make it 7-7. Tyron Carrier returned the ensuing kickoff 61 yards to the Tech 38, but the Cougar drive stalled, and Jordan Mannisto missed a 40-yard FG. However, Mannisto would hit from 30 yards midway through the 2nd quarter to make it a 10-7 UH lead.

After the UH score, Tech put together two sustained drives, resulting in touchdowns. The Red Raiders led 21-10 before Keenum got the ball back with 59 seconds to go in the half. The junior QB orchestrated a quick drive to the Tech 27 before a delay of game pushed them back to the 32. Mannisto made a career-long 50-yarder as the half ended to get UH within eight points.

Keenum rolls out

Halftime: Texas Tech 21, Houston 13

After the half, the teams traded unsuccessful drives before Houston went on a 7-play, 85-yard drive, capped off by a Bryce Beall touchdown. 21-20. Red Raiders. However, Tech responded with a 75-yard scoring drive to increase their lead to 28-20 with 4:19 left in the 3rd quarter.

It would be the last time Texas Tech scored.

With 3:15 left in the quarter, the Red Raiders started to mount a drive. But on a 1st & 10 play, DT David Hunter stripped it out of a running back’s hands, and CJ Cavness recovered the fumble. 11 plays later, having marched to the 4-yard line, Mannisto would add his 3rd field goal – this one 21 yards – to make the score 28-23.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#dd0000″ class=”” size=”20″] Read More on the Tech game: Players Share Their Memories[/perfectpullquote]

This is the most glaring example of how Kevin Sumlin out-coached Leach that night. When he could take the points, Sumlin did. Mannisto would attempt five field goals that night compared to 0 for Texas Tech. That fact would come back to bite the Red Raiders.

Tech started the next drive just before the 4th quarter began. Matt Nicholson intercepted the first play of the drive, but a personal foul call negated the turnover. On the next play, Brandon Brinkley forced a fumble, but the ball trickled out of bounds, and the Red Raiders retained possession. The quarter ended, and a disheveled Tech team breathed a sigh of relief.

Charles Sims caught 10 passes out of the backfield

4th Quarter Offers Lots Of Drama

Tech came out more composed in the 4th and started to move the ball deep into UH territory. A Baron Batch rush to the seven gave Tech a first and goal. Batch ran twice more to get the Red Raiders to the two-yard line. Leach elected to hand it off to a backup running back who got a yard before Marcus McGraw stood him up at the 1.

On 4th down, everyone knew Tech would kick it to go up by eight – everyone except Mike Leach. Taylor Potts attempted a QB sneak but was stopped by Kris Johnston and David Hunter. Turnover on downs! Somehow, the UH defense had held.

“We needed to score and had a half of a yard, but in hindsight, I should have called for a field goal,” Leach said after the game.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#dd0000″ class=”” size=”20″]“At the moment, I just knew we had to make a stop. I honestly didn’t know they were that close to the goal line until we lined up. We just did what we had to do.” – Marcus McGraw[/perfectpullquote]

Marcus McGraw on the tackle.

Starting from his 1-yard line, Case Keenum directed an 11-play drive into Tech territory. But in his only mistake of the night, Keenum was picked off by Tech’s Will Ford at the 34. The defense would need to hold again.

And they did. Tech hit a 12-yarder on the drive’s first play but could not pick up another first down. Tech punted and downed the ball at the UH 5. With 5:47 left in the game, it was now or never for the Cougars. The tension inside Robertson Stadium was the highest it had ever been.

Ninety-five yards from a potential win, Keenum and OC Dana Holgorsen methodically picked apart the Tech defense. For my money, that drive was the most amazing I’ve witnessed in 25 years following the Cougars. After missing Cleveland on a deep ball, the Coogs picked up a few quick first downs before Keenum scrambled for another on a 3rd & 10 play.

Charles Sims was dropped for a loss on first down, and then Beall picked up 2 yards on 2nd down. Facing 3rd and long, Holgorsen had a plan. Instead of trying to pick up 9 yards for a first down, he would be patient and believe in his offense. On third down, the freshman Sims ran for 6 yards on a draw play. On 4th and 3, with the game on the line, Keenum hit Patrick Edwards on a sideline pass for 7 yards and the first down.

That was my favorite sequence in the game, perhaps my favorite Dana Holgorsen moment ever, but it wasn’t enough to impress Craig James:

On the ensuing first down, Beall went over the left tackle for 12 yards, then Keenum stepped up in the pocket and hit Tyron Carrier for 23 yards—first and goal for the Coogs on the 7.

Bryce Beall ran right for 3 yards before UH called a timeout with 53 seconds left.

On 2nd and goal from the 4-yard line, the Coogs came out in an empty set. Holgorsen spread Tech all over the field. With just three defenders rushing, Keenum ran a QB draw and snuck in for a touchdown. An anxious stadium exploded.

In his final words before the touchdown, ESPN’s Mike Patrick said, “Remember, Keenum can run.”


UH went for two but was unable to convert. 29-28 Cougars.

But the game wasn’t over: Tech got the ball back with 49 seconds left. The Red Raiders moved it to the UH 43 before a motion penalty set them back 5 yards. With two seconds left, their only shot was a Hail Mary. Potts heaved it as far as he could, but it was knocked away at the six-yard line.



The Cougars beat the Red Raiders, 29-28, in an instant classic. The game ended after midnight, but the party had just begun. UH fans rushed the field in uncontrolled excitement.

Houston won an epic on the back of Case Keenum. During the 16-play, 95-yard winning drive, Keenum was 4/7 for 43 yards and rushed for 22 yards (and two first downs) on three carries.

Keenum was 38/58 for 435 yards and 2 TDs (1 pass, 1 rush).

“If you don’t feel something in these type of games and love the adrenaline, then you’re not living. It’s a lot of fun. I’d like to do this every week.” – Case Keenum

Case achieved several milestones in the win over Tech:

  • Keenum had his 17th career 300-yard passing day. He moved into a tie with Kevin Kolb for the most in school history.
  • With 435 passing yards, Keenum recorded the sixth 400-yard passing game of his career. He tied with Andre Ware for UH’s second-most 400-yard passing games.
  • With his two touchdowns responsible for (pass and rush), Keenum moved past Andre Ware into third place in UH career history with 84.
  • Keenum became the 5th player in school history to reach 8,000 passing yards, joining Kevin Kolb, David Klinger, Jason McKinley, and Andre Ware.
  • With two touchdowns responsible for (1 pass, 1 rush), Keenum moved into a tie with Shaun King for touchdowns responsible in C-USA history.


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