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UNT 27, Rice 17 x

DENTON (Nov. 22) –
  Rice Owl football fortunes def- initely looked as if they were on the up and up early in the second quarter of the Institute Boys’ game with North Texas here Saturday.

Having won four out of their last five, and – hell, it should have been five in a row, what with that crazy quadruple bounce field-goal that wasn’t – a fifth out of six would have been a neat launchpad for a liftoff to greater heights. And this game was taking off quite nicely.

The Flock was up, 10-0, but it just as easily could’ve been 17-0, good guys at that point. A 97-yard touchdown drive executed with precision by Owl quarterback Mike Collins and his motley crew of  young backs and receivers combined with three straight shutdowns thrown up by the Rice defense, with just a couple of mis-steps that kept the score down at that point.

Still, with Rice driving once again and facing a fourth-and-2 at the UNT 12 yard, the choice seemed one  between taking the chips off the table and going up 13-0 by field goal, or letting ‘er ride with a go at the first down – or maybe a shot in the end zone. Rice played the latter.

The Owl offense set up the play perfectly, QB Collins had time to survey the field, and found his man Jake Bailey crossing the middle a foot or two into the end zone.

The throw, however, was a knuckle-ball low and outside, a play Collins makes nine times out of ten – but not this time.

“I thought we had a chance to really impact the game,” Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren explained afterwards. “We were up 10-0 at that point, and had  chance to change the game.

“If you put seven on the board there, it feels different. And we’ve got a quarterback we really trust in Mike Collins. So we put the ball in his hands and it didn’t work out.”

No worries, mate; the Owls had completely dominated the game up to that point, and there was no reason to expect the trend would not continue.

Three plays later, though, UNT quarterback Jason Bean found a seam, slithered through and suddenly was wide open in the clear en route to a 66-yard touchdown run.

That dash started an avalanche of 27 straight Green Wave, er, sorry, Mean Green points, each one of them jamming a picque in the side of a suddenly faltering Owl season.

Now it was the Owl offense’s time to sputter, as a three-and-out was followed by a muffed punt by Mr. Dependable Austin Trammel, one after the other.  That second discombobulation wound up setting the plate for a short, 38-yard UNT drive which gave the Little Green Men a 14-10 lead with a minute to go at the half.

Surely the Rice coaching staff could make halftime adjustments to right this ship, right?

Come now.

North Texas took the second half kickoff – a kick out-of-bounds setting them up at the 35 – from where they ground out 55 yards in 13 plays, culminating only when Antonio Montero stuffed the run at the Rice 11 and then forced a quarterback-hurried incompletion on third and long.

So UNT settled for a 27-yard field goal five minutes deep in the third quarter, thereby taking a 17-10 lead.

But the Rice defense had held tough, lending credence to the notion that it would hold tight enough to allow the Owl offense to spring back to life and take the game.

But that didn’t happen.  Offense back onto the field, and it was two runs up the middle followed by a fizzled third-down pass  -- three and out. Bleech play-calling.

In response, starting at their own seven yard line thanks to a 49-yard Charlie Mendes punt aided by an illegal block, the Mean Green drove the ball as far as midfield, where the Owl defensed stiffened.  The ticking of the game clock began to be audible, but still the Owls were only one score down.

And Rice did move the ball on their next possession, primarily by air, with Austin Trammell and Jordan Meyers nabbing key receptions.  But the O-line let down once the Feathered Flock got inside the UNT 40, as Mike Collins was sacked for a loss of seven on third and seven at the North Texas 34. 

Seven quarterback sacks on the night for UNT defenders said otherwise – probably not a record for Owl opponents but if not, the team who bested that certainly played in a tougher league than UNT.

It was then that the UNT offense began to gash the Owl defensive front with run after run, covering 67 yards on their next possession ending with a 30-yard field goal by Ethan Mooney.

But when the Owls got the ball back, now down 20-10,  two straight stacks and a quarterback hurry gave the Owls a fourth and 21.  At that point it became clear:  Rice was going to lose this game, no doubt about it.

The issue was settled for good when UNT’s DeAndre Torrey got sixteen yards on the ensuing punt return, setting up North Texas for another short touchdown drive, going 39 yards on six straight running plays.

Though Rice was thought to have the much stronger a rushing attack, the post-game stats showed Rice, 52 yards on 36 carries (but bear in mind the seven sacks), while UNT netted 269 yards on 42 carries. Advantage, Greens.

The running of Juma Otaviano was conspicuously absent in the Rice attack, as the Owls’ leading rusher was not able to suit out despite having a couple of COVID-imposed off dates to get well.

Rice did get in a meaningless final TD to cut the score to 27-17 at game’s end when Collins hit Jake Bailey from 17 yards out.