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Rice 30, UAB 24

Rice receiver August Pitre III hauls in Wiley Green pass and heads for the pylon before finally being waylaid at the UAB one yard line, 38 yards later (

HOUSTON (Oct. 24) – Might there have been something about this AAC move that has added octane to our Institute lads’ gas tanks?

Based on the Owls’ performance Saturday in their impressive 30-24 win over UAB, something just had to have happened. Something quite possibly transformational rather than merely incremental, ya think?

With the formerly beleaguered and beaten-up Wiley Green stepping in at quarterback and playing like the reincarnation of Johnny Unitas, with the Rice receiving corps finally coming together in a way that portends new stars among them, and with a pressuring, blitzing defense that played hellbent for leather, this Rice team was a completely different outfit from the one that lost to UTSA, Texas and UH by combined score of, oh, never mind.

To top it off, this bunch came into Birmingham bringing a heretofore undisplayed attitude. It said, ‘We’re tired of being knocked around; this time we’re going to do the head-knocking – and then tell you something about it afterwards.’

That attitude appeared to emanate in no small part from Rice boss man Mike Bloomgren, whose post-game sum-up exhibited just a bit of intellectual brutality.

“I think that the team on the other sideline maybe didn’t think we were worth being on the same field as them and we showed them otherwise,” Coach Bloom said.

Quick start didn't hurt a bit

Rice came out like a tractor that hadn’t been started in a while, but then fired up right nicely when the choke was applied. The Owls’ opening possession looked like a three-and-out, but the ruffians from UAB committed their first of numerous bad-boy fouls on the day. A running-into-the-kicker penalty set up the Flock with fourth and short, which they converted – the first of five-out-of-five fourth-down conversions the Owls racked up in this game.

From there, the Flock kept it on the ground, paced by Ari Broussard’s 19-yard broken-field run to set Rice up with first and goal at the UAB six. Three plays later, Jordan Myers plunged in from one yard out, and the Owls took the lead.

Next it was the defense’s turn to make the big play. After UAB QB Dylan Hopkins connected with RaJae Johnson-Sanders for 28 yards down the sideline to midfield, Gabe Taylor separated RaJae from the ball with a kamkaze dive-bomber attack, and Antonio Montero alertly scooped up the ball before it managed to slither out of bounds.

That’s when Wiley went into his Johnny Unitas imitation, throwing laser strikes to Jake Bailey for 11 and then hitting August Pitre III for 35 more to the UAB two yard line. Boom, suddenly it was 13-0, Owls, before the local Homecoming crowd scarcely had time to settle into their seats.

Note however, it was “13", not “14.” Grrrrr...

Debacle in San Antonio firmed Owls' resolve, this time

“Last week was tough,” Wiley Green said afterwards. “We learned a lot from last week. We learned we have to come out fast, something we did better today.”

At that point, though, UAB got the hot hand and surged in for two quick TDs to take a 14-13 lead into the second quarter.

UAB then moved the ball a third time, but the Owl defense stiffened inside their red zone, thanks to a heavy rush and alert pass knock-downs by Ikenna Enechukwu and Miles McCord. Facing fourth and 10 at the Rice 16, the Blazers failed to convert on the field goal attempt, and that put the Owls back in business.

On first and 10 from Rice’s own 20, Wiley hit August Pitre III – again – for 38 yards to get things going good and proper.

But from there, Owls ground it out and ran the clock. Another fourth-down converstion by Jordan Myers kept the drive alive, and then on first and ten from the UAB 26 Wiley threw a perfect strike to Jake Bailey in the end zone. As J Fred used to say, though...."however"....

The striped-shirt boys thought they saw Jake push off a UAB defender at the 5, though all we saw was the usual bit of receiver-defender jostling.

That meant no score, and the Owls were then with a first and 25 from the UAB 41. It is from predicaments like this that games are lost.

But not this time. On second and ten, Wiley scrambled for six, full contact. And then, facing third and 19, he calmly hit Cedric Patterson for 22 yards to the UAB 13. Two plays later, Monsieur Pitre was open in the end zone, and Wiley found him. Result: eight minutes of clock burned -- Rice 20, UAB 14 at the half.

Rice kept foot on the gas, third quarter

UAB took the second half kickoff and promptly went three-and-out, thanks in large part to defensive efforts by Antonio Montero and Gabe Baker. Gabe really shone in this game, like Altuve coming out of a slump, and showed the star power Owl fans all know he possesses.

So Rice got the ball after a UAB punt to the Owl 35. Their drive ensued, kept alive by a keen alumni play on fourth and five from the Rice 40. From punt formation, Jaeger Bull took the short snap and rambled for 30 yards deep into UAB territory. Now that’s Intellectual Brutality.

Wiley once again took to the air to sustain the drive, with a 13-yard pass-and-catch to – who else – August Pitre III, setting up the Owls with first and goal from the ten. Another completion to Jordan Myers took the Flock to the lip of the cup, and then, on fourth and one from the UAB one, Jaeger Bull found himself so wide open in the end zone he’d have had time for a quick cup of coffee before hauling in Wiley’s pitch to put the South Main Boys up 27-14 midway through the third quarter.

The Blazers weren’t going to be kept at bay, however, as on their next possession, Dylan Hopkins hit Gerrit Prince for 72 yards and the sudden score. So scarcely a minute later, the Owls were only up 27-21 and it became clear that it would take a major struggle to pull out this victory.

After an exchange of punts, UAB moved inexorably toward the Rice goal, only to be stymied on fourth and six at the Owl 20 when Izeya Floyd broke up a Hopkins-to-Prince passing attempt, killing the drive.

At that point, 14:14 remained in the game, and Rice needed a time-draining possession and a score to put themselves in position to complete the winning effort.

They got both, moving 51 yards in 15 plays, eating up nine minutes of clock in the process, only to falter at the UAB 9. From there, though, Christian Van Sickle was true on his field goal attempt, and the Owls had themselves a pretty good-looking 30-21 lead with 5:52 to play.

Looking good, up 9 with less than 6 to play

On their next possession, however, the Blazers moved the ball quickly through the air, and looked as if they were going to cut the Rice lead to one or two when they faced third and five from the Owl five yard line. Tick, tick, tick.

UAB QB Hopkins dropped back to survey his receivers camped out in the end zone, when Naem Smith surged in to nail him for an 11-yard loss, so that the Blazers had to settle for a 33-yard Matt Quinn field goal with 3:23 left to play.

Could the Owls grind out a couple of first downs and run out the clock? Nope.  Two plunges into the line and a quarterback sack ate up a minute of clock, but the Owls had to punt right back to UAB, now sensing a real chance for a last-gasp win.

Starting as the UAB 32 with 2:10 left, Hopkins once again put the ball in the air. Miles McCord and Elijah Garcia broke up his first two attempts, but on third and ten, the UAB signal-caller hit his receiver, Trea Shropshire, for 17 yards and a first at midfield.

The picture brightened for the Owls next play when UAB’s Gerrit Prince was hit with an offensive pass interference penalty, setting the ball 15 yards in reverse to the UAB 34.

But without timeouts left, but keeping hope alive, the Blazers worked their way to the Rice 40 where they had time for one, final, Hail-Mary chunk into the end zone.

Surely the Owls would have multiple men deep, ready to defend and perhaps bat down the last-second second try, right?

Instead, the Rice of seasons past reared its head, and, noooooooo.....Hopkins connected with Shropshire in the end zone, where he was being pursued one-on-one by his Rice defender.

You’ve gotta be kidding me! Did we just find a way to lose this game on a last minute prayer of a pass play? Sure looked like it.

But the officials detected offensive holding in the line, and called the apparent TD back. UAB’s Coach Clark went bonkers, charging the officials, who promptly tagged him with 15 more for unsportsmanlike.

Well, it was, certainly.

Sixty-five yards with only two seconds to get them was too much for the Blazers, and this time the Owls batted down a game-ending prayer of a pass.

The final: Rice 30, UAB 24. And more than a little chippiness at midfield, post-game, as the Owls let with a little bit of hoo-rah, and the UAB gentlemen apparently took issue.

Cool heads prevailed, though, as no blows were struck, and the Owls left the field, victorious, happy, and saying so.

“We talked about putting your foot down, a green-light mentality instead of being hesitant,” Coach Bloom said afterwards. “We were able to take another step forward that we needed to take,” he added. “I think we had lost our swagger to some degree (against UTSA). We gained confidence throughout the game.”

“I really think it came down to them freeing themselves to make plays and to play the way they’re capable.”