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UTSA 14, Rice 13

Rice chalks up sterling defensive effort but sputtering offense, special team lapses add up to yet another loss

HAVE SOME MORE STUFFING -- Rice defenders team up to stop UTSA ball carrier for no gain, first quarter; save for one long bomb TD pass, one short-range mortar shot for same, Owl defense kept Roadrunners off the scoreboard all day (David Speed Elder photo)

HOUSTON (Oct. 16) -- As the clock ticked down late in the fourth quarter of Rice's game with UT-San Antonio Saturday, the Owls, down 14-13 but on the move, found themselves with first down and ten at their opponent's 31 yard line.

They'd begun this penultimate possession with five minutes left in the game, back at their own five yard line, just having turned away the Roadrunner offense on fourth and goal from the two when Tabari McGaskey dropped running back Jalen Rhodes in the backfield.

From there, the Owls moved the ball adroitly, picking up four first downs in surging down field mostly via the air, Owl quarterback Tyler Stehling connecting with Connor Cella and Samuel Stewart twice for plus-ten-yard completions.

One more of those aerial connections, and the local crew would have been within chip-shot field goal range, or, the way they'd been marching, on the verge of picking up a game-clinching six points just before clock time expired.

But that's when the service station attendants must’ve let the air out of the tires.

A Samuel Stewart plunge into the line on first down netted zero. Connor Cella then aided the cause with four yards on a quick grab. But on third and six, Sam Stewart got the handoff again, in a play that for all intents and purposes looked to be set up to align the ball on the field for a fourth-down field goal attempt -- but on the left hashmark.

Perhaps the apparently unintentional alignment was meant to be quite intentional. Rice place kicker Haden Tobola previously had missed a long, 49-yard field goal try with plenty of leg, but wide right. Before that, he'd misfired on a PAT that caromed off the goal post -- wide right.

“Haden had really been outstanding kicking all season, but today we missed a couple,” Rice head coach David Bailiff said afterwards. “But it really shouldn't have come down to that."

This 42-yard effort, again, from the left hashmark, missed once again – still wide right. Game over, right?

Well, not entirely.

A minute twenty-seven still remained when the Owls had to turn the ball back over to UTSA at the 24 yard line. The Owls used their remaining two timeouts, and Jamaica Mon Carl Thompson was there to stuff three straight rushes into the line.

Sam Stewart returned the ensuing punt to the Owl 36, and the boys had 20 precious seconds to get into field goal range, with no timeouts left.

Tyler Stehling hit just-activated WR Kylen Granson for 18-yards and an immediate out-of-bounds,and then quickly turned back around and hit the self-same true freshman from Denton Guyer for 19 more to the 27. The resulting first down stopped the clock for a chain re-set.

It appeared the Owls might have had a split-second to get off a field-goal attempt from there, would have they been able to get the field goal team onto the field and set in place in record time.

There was only one second remaining on the scoreboard clock. Spiking the ball was no answer, for by rule it would have expired the time.

But when the Rice sideline did not attempt to get the field goal unit onto the field, Tyler Stehling vainly tried to get off the spike before time expired. It appeared that about a second-and-a-half elapsed between the time officials whistled “ready for play” and the ensuing whistle indicating “time expired.” No time for the field goal try, though the drama ended with the Rice place-kicking vainly setting up on the field.

Frankly, it would have been unlikely that the field goal unit would have been able to be in place and set in time to get a kick off. Nevertheless, the confused ending capped the contest leaving a bitter impression of what might have been.

Rice certainly started off the game like gangbusters, rolling 75 yards in 13 plays before quarterback Tyler Stehling scrambled in from 13 yards out for the six. Big play on the drive was a 30-yard hookup to James Mayden giving the Flock a first down at the UTSA 35.

Bear in mind, however, the aforementioned missed PAT attempt, which took a little burnish off this jewel of a drive.

The Owl defense forced a three-and-out on the Roadrunners’ first possession, but the second time the San Antonians got their hands on the ball, receiver Josh Stewart got behind the Rice secondary and hauled in a 75-yard toss from QB Dalton Sturm to give the visitors a 7-6 lead.

Yup, another “Number 28" rung up by the opposition.

Then, on the last play of the first quarter, Tabari McGaskey and Preston Gordon teamed to sack Sturm for a loss of seven on third down, and the Roadrunners had to punt away.

Unfortunately, the Rice punt receiving unit here stumbled significantly. Two deep men appeared to get tangled up, and Nahshon Ellerbee hit the turf, just as the tumble punt grazed his uniform. The resulting muff was hopped on by UTSA’s JaColbie Butler at the Rice 28. And then first play, Sturm once again found his receiver Stewart open behind the Owl secondary, and suddenly it was 14-6, UTSA.

Another “Number 28.” Or maybe it was more like a “Half-28,” more a mortar shot than a long bomb.

That’s way the first half ended, for the Owls were able to pick up only a total of 51 more yards after their initial scoring drive by the time the second quarter ended.. And that included the distance carried on a 45-yard, 12-play drive that ended with the missed 49-yard field goal attempt.

Rice cut the score to 14-13 with an impressive 84-yard drive on the Owls first possession of the third quarter, Sam Stewart hauling in a quick-out in the flat and racing 13 yards, up and over the pylon.

With still a quarter-and-a-half to go, the Owls elected to take the one-point PAT instead of going for two. Pretty sure that’s what The Book says you should do in such circumstances.

But maybe not. Turned out that twice on the day the Owl offense moved the ball down the field on eleven-play drives that produced zero points.

"I have to be more consistent throwing the deep balls," Tyler Stehling told press afterwards. "I have to be better. It's tough to come out of this one with a loss. We have to work on finishing drives."

“You know you really are heartbroken for that football team over in the locker room,” Coach Bailiff concluded. “They tried so hard; they fought.”

"The only way to get through this is to keep working," he added. "These guys believe we can work through this.”


HOUSTON (Oct. 13) – The UT-San Antonio Roadrunners will meep-meep their way into Rice Stadium for a 6:00 p.m. kickoff Saturday in the attempt to build upon an impressive 55-32 home win over Southern Miss last week. Yeah. That Southern Miss.

If rookie Coach Frank Wilson bring in the same squad that so readily vanquished the Southern Mississipians, well, there’ll hardly be any use teeing this one up. We’ll be looking at a walkover for the visitors.

Ah, but it’s not so simple as that.

The Meep-Meepers are only 2-3 thus far this season after the big win over USM. After a season-opening 26-13 home win over FCS entrant Alabama State, the ‘Runners lost three in a row, two of them on the road, albeit none without a struggle.

First came a 23-14 road loss to Colorado State, followed by a close home defeat at the hands of Todd Graham’s Arizona State contingent, 33-28, an impressive result in defeat, indeed.

Next, though, came a 33-19 road loss against league opponent Old Dominion, and the ‘Runner fans who dress up in wrestling garb to attend games at the Alamodome began to grumble in complaint.

“Looking at the UTSA scores going into the Southern Miss game,” Rice head coach David Bailiff said, “they had been really close with Arizona State, lost in a tough one to Old Dominion and they came out and jumped on Southern Miss with big play after big play. They only ran 47 plays in the game.”

“On Saturday, you turn on your television in the morning and watch the Southern Miss-UTSA game and before you can blink UTSA is up 21-0 on big plays.”

“Coach Wilson has done a great job,” the Rice head man pointed out. “They are playing with great discipline and are very multiple offensively, jumping out of one back to two backs and running power games. The same defensively, multiple fronts, playing hard and tackling well in space.”

The record stands out:  these guys have been  brutal at home before los fanaticos de la lucha libre. But so far they’ve been easy pickin’s on the road. Why? Quien sabe? Saturday shall likely provide at least something of an explanation.

The UTSAn offense is balanced, averaging 28.4 points per game with 144.8 rushing yards and 231.2 passing yards per game. QB Dalton Sturm, who led UTSA’s 34-24 home win against the Owls last season, has completed 63.2% of his passes for 975 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions.

Veteran running back Jalen Rhodes has rushed for 362 yards and four touchdowns, while his cohort Jarveon Williams has rushed for 253 yards and three touchdowns for the Roadrunners. Both of those guys bruised the Owls in Rice’s embarrassing loss last November.

Among pass catchers,, the ‘Runners’ Josh Stewart has caught 10 passes for 232 yards, while Kerry Thomas Jr. has caught 12 passes for 187 yards and three scores for UTSA.

The UTSA defense is giving up 26.6 points per game with 197.4 rushing yards and 219.8 passing yards per game. Josiah Tauaefa has led the UTSA defense with 58 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks, while Nate Gaines has added 29 tackles, one tackle for loss, and one interception. Victor Falcon has gone 3-3 on field goals, with a long of 45 yards.

As a measure of how far the semi-mighty have fallen, Rice in its 100-plus year gridiron history has battled a long list of historic foes 90 or a hundred times. For UTSA, conversely, Saturday will mark the fifth all-time meeting between the programs, which will make it the most-played series in the San Antonio commuter school’s history.

UTSA picked up its first-ever win against Rice with that 34-24 victory last Nov. 21 at the Alamodome. Prior to same, the Owls had won the previous three matchups by scores of 17-7 (2014), 27-21 (2013) and 34-14 (2012).

"It’s a game where we are going to have to play our best to win it," Coach Bailiff concluded.  "We’ll need to create turnovers defensively and take care of the ball offensively and continue to improve as a football team."

"Every week we get a little better."

Look in the mirror and repeat that sentence five times every morning.