The Houston Cougars avenged last year’s loss to the SMU Mustangs by taking down their conference foe in a 35-22 win at TDECU Stadium on Saturday night.

Playing their first American Athletic Conference game at home this season, Houston running back Duke Catalon ran for 177 yards off 22 carries and scored two touchdowns.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for a night like this and I’m just glad that it happened,” Catalon said. “We just have to keep working hard.”

Houston improved to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in conference play while the Mustangs fell to 4-2 and 1-1.

The Cougars ended up with 265 yards of rushing.

“We believed in Duke tonight,” said Houston head coach Major Applewhite. “He came in Sunday and had a quick talk and I told him to not worry about it. Just go do it and he did. He played really hard and our line blocked well. I can’t remember the last time that we had 265 yards of rushing.”

Wide receiver Steven Dunbar had 65 yards of receiving from six catches.

Quarterback Kyle Postma went 19-of-27 for 176 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.

It was his second start of the season.

“It feels great to start,” Postma said. “It gets my confidence up. I made a few bad throws but I just have to clean those up in practice and do the best that I can for the team.”

“I’m proud of the way that our guys played tonight,” Applewhite said. “We played really hard and I’m proud of them. SMU is a very good football team. They’re very well coached.”

SMU quarterback Ben Hicks went 41-of-58 for 397 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Running back Xavier Jones had 99 yards from 13 carries while wide receiver Courtland Sutton had 11 receptions for 160 yards. SMU wide receiver Trey Quinn had 156 yards of receptions from 17 catches.

SMU finished the night with nine penalties for 45 yards while Houston had only four penalties for 48 yards.

The Mustangs got on the board first on their opening drive that covered 59 yards in 10 plays and resulted in a 23-yard field goal by Josh Williams with 10:54 in the first quarter.

The Cougars responded on their first drive of the night, scoring on a Postma 18-yard pass to wide receiver D’Eriq King to put the Cougars ahead after driving down 75 yards in 10 plays. The Cougars converted on third down twice on their opening drive.

Hicks connected with Braeden West for a 20-yard gain to give SMU ideal field position.

The Mustangs capped it off with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Quinn to regain the lead but the PAT by Josh Williams was no good with 1:58 remaining in the first quarter on a drive that lasted 12 plays and covered 75 yards.

The Mustangs’ second pass interference penalty of the night came on the Cougars’ second drive on a pass attempt from Postma to King right before the first quarter came to an end with Houston trailing 9-7.

The Cougars started the second quarter on a rough note with a fumbled snap that Postma managed to recover on a 4-yard loss, forcing Houston to punt for the first time from the SMU 48-yard line.

Shortly after, Hicks connected with Courtland Sutton on a 29-yard pass to bring the ball into Houston territory.

But after only getting as far as the Houston 20, the Mustangs settled for their second field goal of the day and Williams had no trouble converting from 37 yards out to give SMU a 12-7 lead with 10:43 left before halftime.

Facing third-and-7 on the Cougars’ next drive, Postma’s fade route pass to Steven Dunbar was incomplete but the refs flagged Jordan Wyatt for SMU’s third pass interference call of the night to give the Cougars a new set of downs.

Postma’s patience finally paid off though with King hitting the quarterback on a reverse pass from 22 yards out for the Cougars’ second touchdown of the night on a nine play, 76-yard drive with 7:45 remaining in the second quarter with Houston leading, 14-12.

“We ran that play twice in practice and one time I dropped it so I was just telling myself not to drop it,” Postma said. “It was a perfect pass.”

Houston’s defense forced the Mustangs to punt for the first time on the first three-and-out from either side with 6:45 left in the half.

However, the Cougars only had the ball back for one play as Postma’s deep pass was intercepted by Mikial Onu at the Mustang 30-yard line. It was the Cougars’ first turnover of the night.

But after the Cougars held the Mustangs and forced another punt, SMU punter Jamie Sackville delivered his longest punt of the season on a 64-yard kick that went out of bounds at the Houston 5-yard line.

Catalon’s 45-yard run on the following play brought the ball into SMU territory late in the first half.

The Cougars eventually found the end zone on that same drive, scoring on Postma’s 3-yard slant pass to Elli Jefferson to give Houston a 21-12 lead right before halftime. The scoring drive covered 95 yards in 10 plays, Houston’s longest scoring drive of the season.

SMU managed to drive the ball downfield in the final minute and eight seconds of the half but Williams missed a 30-yard attempt as the second quarter expired.

The Cougars’ first offensive drive of the second half ended in the hands of SMU cornerback Christian Davis who picked off Postma’s deep pass into the end zone.

But it wasn’t until the Mustangs’ next offensive possession when they were able to score with Ke’Mon Freeman driving up the middle for the 1-yard touchdown to cut Houston’s lead to 21-19 in the third quarter.

The cougars responded very quickly with Catalon finding the end zone on a 52-yard run on a two-play, 64-yard scoring drive in 31 seconds at the 7:16 mark in the third.

Williams made a 46-yard field goal with under two minutes left in the third quarter to narrow the gap to 6 points.

Houston’s offense continued to have a response for SMU and Catalon scored his second rushing touchdown of the game on a 16-yard carry early in the fourth quarter from an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive as the Cougars built a comfortable 35-22 lead.

Facing four-down territory, the Mustangs went for it on fourth-and-5 at the Cougar 34. But Hicks couldn’t convert and his pass intended for Sutton fell incomplete with 9:54 remaining.

The Cougars will next face the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (1-5, 0-2) at 3 p.m. next Saturday on the road.

Tulsa lost to Tulane 62-28 this weekend.

“We have to watch out,” Applewhite said. “Our next game is against a team that is coming off a tough loss. I told the players to enjoy this now and then come back and get ready for Tulsa.”

The Mustangs will have a bye-week before traveling to take on the Cincinnati Bearcats on Oct. 21.

Michael Bauer: 409-683-5247; michael.bauer@galvnews.com

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