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2018 North Texas week

UTEP 34, Rice 26

HOUSTON (Nov. 4) – On the first play from scrimmage in Saturday’s game between the Rice Owls and a formerly-winless UTEP team, Miner quarterback Kai Locksley lofted a perfect spiral to his receiver Warren Redix as he streaked down the sideline in front of the Rice bench.

The little-used receiver caught the ball in full stride and thus wrought a 42-yard gain, putting the Miners in business at the Rice 33 yard line.

It was a blow from which the homestanding contingent never recovered, surrendering a lead that stretched as wide as 34-3 late in the third quarter, so that a furious 23-point second-half comeback surge was doomed to fall short.

“They started the game with a big play and from that point on it was like all the wind came out of our sails," Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren said postgame. “And it’s so ridiculous that any one play, even if it goes 99 yards for a touchdown on the opening kickoff, we should be able to move on to the next play.”

The Owls didn’t. Instead, they quickly surrendered an opening-drive TD to UTEP when, four plays later, Quadriaz Wadley bulled across the goal from 12 yards out.

Meanwhile the Owl offense showed none of the game-opening spark it had exhibited in Rice’s previous two outings, failing to emerge from their own territory and having to punt the first four times they got their hands on the ball.

With 17 second left in the half, when UTEP QB Locksley sneaked over for the one, it gave the Miners a 27-0 lead – an unthinkeable course of events, even in the minds of the most pessimistic of Owl fans.

With such little time left in the half, the no-quit Owls pushed the ball downfield, quarterback Wiley Green hit Austin Walter for consecutive receptions of 15 and 35 yards, whereupon Haden Tobola booted a 42-yard field goal to break the scoring ice for the locals as the second-quarter clock expired.

With that, one could harbor faint hopes that the Owls might make a game of it in the second half. And Rice came out firing, as Wiley Green hit Aaron Cephus for 20 yards and Austin Walter for 37 to propel the Owls downfield.

It should not go unmentioned, though, that in three Emanuel Esukpa rushing attempts which sandwiched the two successful pass plays, the net result was a gain of exactly zero yards.

Same old problems.

Once again, be it a lack of push in an inexperienced, outmanned offensive line, or the play calling, or whatever, the Owls got as far as the UTEP 10, but failed to get the necessary surge to force their way into paydirt, and came away empty-handed when a fourth-and-three pass attempt failed.

The Rice defense responded with a three-and-out, as Graysen Schantz nailed Quadraiz Wadley for a loss on third and one. But the always-dependable Austin Trammell, back to receive the punt, had to do so facing squarely into the sun and dealing with a swirling wind. As a result, the ball caromed off his shoulder and UTEP’s Nik Needham fell on it at the Rice 25.

When the Miners’ Trayvon Hughes scored from 19 yards out three plays later, the Owls faced a shocking 34-3 deficit, and no small number of Homecoming-attending alumni headed for the stadium exits.

Too bad. They missed a heroic, but nonetheless fruitless, Rice performance the rest of the way.

Rice took the ensuing kickoff and ground out yardage via the running game, interspersed by one sparkling Austin Walker broken-field pass-and-run that carried for 47 yards to the UTEP 9.

When Emmanuel Esukpa plunged for the score from two yards out, it was his first TD registered since the Prairie View game.

The Rice drive took over six minutes to complete, though, so that the 34-10 score at that point, with less than a minute left in the third quarter, looked no less insurmountable.

But when Graysen Schantz fell on a Quadriaz Wadley fumble at midield, moments later, it set up the Owl offense for a performance, the likes of which they had expected to display in the first half.

Facing fourth and three at the UTEP 20, Wiley Green dropped back and connected with Austin Trammell who’d sneaked his way right into a campground in the end zone. Aaron Cephus then hauled in a fade for the two point conversion, and it was 34-18.

Boom, just like that, Prudy Calderon came up with the intercept of a Kail Locksley pass which gave the ball to the Owls at the UTEP 27.

But next play, Wiley Green made a quick toss into a crowd and it was picked off right back..

But then it was the defense’s turn to get down. Thanks to key stops by Blaze Alldredge and Treshawn Chamberlain, and foiled pass attempts by CollinWhitaker and Elijah Garcis, the Miners were three-and-outed.

Austin Trammell wasn’t finished with his heroics, as, on fourth and three from the Rice 47, he hauled in a sideline pass designed to just pick up the first down, but simply wouldn’t be content with that and instead bulled, threaded and danced his way 53 yards for another Rice touchdown.

Once again, Wiley Green connected with Aaron Cephus on the two-point attempt, and it was 34-26. And still, almost nine minutes remained in the game.

The Owl defense gave its offense two more chances to push across a game-tying score, but when UTEP’s Justin Rogers intercepted a long, desperate fourth-down heave, the clock struck midnight on the Owls’ comeback effort. And the celebration began on the UTEP sideline.

"This has been very difficult," Coach Bloomgren said. "I've been on teams where you felt like they weren't giving you everything they could, but I don't think that's the case because you look at the way the first half went, you could've easily seen this game ending 70-3."

“It's like it was two completely different ballgames, two completely different teams when you look at that first half and that second half."

“I knew we were very similar to UTEP coming in, there's just no way I could've seen a script for the first two quarters to go the way they did."

Neither did we, Coach, neither did we.