Rice-SMU game page
31, SMU 27
Owls upend Ponies,
secure bowl berth
with fantastic finish
Owl chorus line queues up to run down SMU quarterback Willis (Mark
By Bob Reinhold
HOUSTON (Nov. 25) Win one for the Gipper? No. Win seven for
Dale Lloyd? Absolutely.
Senior slotback Mike Falco virtually guaranteed victory, a la Joe Namath, earlier this
week -- and he and his teammates came through. It ain't braggin' if you can do it (Mark
The Rice Owls pledged their season to Lloyd's memory after Dale's
tragic passing, and made good on their promise with a come- from-behind, heart- stopping
31-27 victory Saturday, a win that propelled the Owls into a bowl game for the first time
since 1961, while frustrating SMUs efforts to get to one themselves.
This Senior Day victory was the sixth consecutive win for Rice after a virtual
Bataan Death March early-season schedule, and the untimely loss of one of the Owl
Jarett Dillard once again proved why he is a Biletnikoff Award finalist, as he hauled
in six passes for 145 yards and three TDs, all of the spectacular variety. But none shall
be destined to rank so spetacularly among Rice football lore as the 25-yarder he brought
in for the winning touchdown with 4:05 left to play.
It was another one of those command performances, apparently. That is, Jarett
commanded Joel Armstrong to throw him the ball, Joel delivered it, and JD made his usual,
leaping, impossible catch to provide the margin of victory.
"I just feel it in my soul," the San Antonio sophomore said of his
insistence that the ball be hoisted his way. "It's something you just feel to do.
When the games on the line, I'll take the blame if we miss it. Just throw it up
there, and let's go get it."
Owls threatened to blow game open, early
Rice came flying out of the gate by dominating the first quarter. Kicker Luke
Juist put on a teriffic hit on the opening kickoff causing a fumble and setting the Owls
up deep in Pony territory. A missed field goal ended that first first posession, but the
pace was thereby set.
In rapid fire order Quinton Smith scored on a seven yard run, Dillard reeled in
a 46 yard bomb from Joel Armstrong and Clark Fangmeier hit a 38 yard field goal, sending
the Owls up 17-0 only 27 seconds into the 2nd quarter.
It wasn't going to be a laugher, though. First Columbus Givens scored on 33 yard
pass from Justin Willis, followed by two easy Pony TDs. Facing third and long deep in his
own territory, Joel Armstrong, starting for the injured Chase Clement, threw an
interception to SMUs Tony Hawkins who returned the ball to the Rice five yard line.
Cedrick Dorsey took it in from there.
Trying desperately to make amends, two possessions later Joel found himself
throwing out of his own end zone on third and six from the Rice 13. This time, SMU
defenders converged on him and managed to wrest away the ball, which was recovered in the
end zone by SMUs Brandon Bonds to put the Ponies suddenly and shockingly on top,
The Owls failed to move the ball for the third straight time and had to punt it
out again, next possession. This time, the Ponies Blake Warren performed a nifty
little sleight of hand, convincing the Owl defenders hed signaled for a fair catch
while when the officials determined he hadnt. The resulting 25 yard return put the
Mustangs in good field position again, though this time they had to settle for a field
goal by virtue of the first of several huge Rice defensive stops.
Here, just before the half, SMU had a first and goal from the Rice one yard
line, but after Brandon King broke up a pass on first down, George Chukwu nailed SMU
quarterback Justin Willis for a loss to the three, and then Marcus Rucker got in some sack
time, nailing Willis back at the 13 yard line.
Tim Morstead converted a 33-yard field goal to put the Ponies up 24-17 at the
half, but the Owls were still in striking distance and undeterred.
SMU had halftime momentum, but Owls had the fortitude
Rice cornerback Bencil Smith seals the deal with a last-
minute pickoff of a Willis pass at the Owl four yard line
(Mark Anderson photo)
It was time for making adjustments in the second half as SMU had the
momentum, and the Owls had a hard time sustaining an offense without Clement. But the
confident Rice eleven wouldn't quit.
Dillard's second TD of the game was a leaping grab of another Armstrong pass to
tie the game at 24 with 10:10 left in the third period.
The first of two goal line stands held SMU to just a field goal and a 27-24 lead
heading into the fourth quarter. SMUs DeMyron James of SMU looked to be headed for
the end zone from 64 yards out, but Brian Raines chased him down on the one yard line.
That touchdown saving play in the third quarter put the Owls in position to win the game..
Rice got the ball back with 7:50 left in the game, their ensuing drive being
most decidedly for a bowl game. Each player dug down as deep as he could.
Quinton Smith, who had scored the game's first touchdown, but had picked up
limited yardage in the interim, got back in gear. He carried the ball six times for 35
yards in the drive to help get the ball as far as the SMU 25.
From there, the script stayed eerily the same, Armstrong looking for Dillard one
more time, and the sophomore from San Antonio delivering, grabbing a 25-yarder to put the
Owls ahead to stay.
Owl defense thwarts SMU comeback attempt
Of course it couldn't be that easy. The Mustangs tried to come back taking the
game to its final seconds. But a sack of Mustang QB Justin Willis by George Chukwu on
second down put SMU in third and long, and Marcus Rucker flushed Willis out of the pocket
on third down for a short gain. On fourth down, Willis threw for the end zone, but Bencil
Smith made the pick at the four yard line, sending the Owl faithful into a frenzy. And
into a bowl.
A beaten-up but happy and excited Andray Downs, one of the senior greybeards of
the squad, managed to sum up feelings for his comrades to the extent they could be
put into mere words.
"I don't even have the words to describe how I feel right now," he
said, speaking undoubtedly for himself and about 75 other men who wear the blue and grey,
and several hundred who once did.
"I'm banged up, and I'm hurting right now, but this is the happiest day of
my life. This is for 45 years of not going to a bowl."
"This is for all the alumni. This is for everybody that comes to our games.
This is for everybody that supports us -- our friends, family, parents. I'm just
Afterward, Rice head coach Todd Graham couldnt hide his exhultation.
"I've won a lot of football games in a lot of places," he said. "But
theres something special going on at Rice right now. It's a coming together. I can't
explain it, but I'm just very honored to be a part of it"
"Forty-five years is way too long. And we're just getting started."
Todd Graham and his Owls were beaming, but this night, the biggest smile in
heaven must belong to Dale Lloyd. He undoubtedly has got some competition among several
thousand Rice loyalists who remain on this mortal earth. But in heaven, he smiles. He
Mark Anderson photo
Sammy: 'Whaddaya say, Peruna, let's
'I believe we are seizing our destiny'
After 45 years, the time is ripe
Rice's Joel Armstrong: 'Pressure? Nah, there's no pressure.
And even if there were, we'd enjoy it'
By Mark Anderson
HOUSTON (Nov. 23) -- When the Rice Owls take the field on Saturday,
don't look for then to succumb tothe media hype about all the pressure they face in
squaring off in a winner- take- bowl battle with SMU. For Rice head coach Todd Graham and
the Owls, it isn't about pressure, it's about destiny.
The story of this game actually goes back to January 1, 2006, when Todd Graham was
hired. "We will win," Graham said that day to anyone who would listen and
believe him. But Graham said he was bringing something even more important -- an attitude
where failure was not accepted.
Graham pointed out that day that there were only two things the players could control--
their attitude and their effort. As he began to mold the first (attitude), the second
began to change.
Joel Armstrong gave a cogent example of the change Graham has brought to this
Owl team. With 1:01 left in the game and the ball on the 24, the pressure doesn't get any
bigger --especially with an untested John Shepherd at the helm. Armstrong told us about
what was happening in that huddle. "When we got in there, we said, 'Keep fighting
keep fighting. Something good is going to happen.'
"We knew we could pull it off," he added. "We said, 'Let's
go down and get this score and everything will take care of itself.'"
Joel said he didn't always possess that confidence, nor did many veterans on
this Owl team, until this year. Joel recalled, "I've been through those missed field
goals the last couple of years. It feels good to work so hard to come back and you finally
get that field goal to go in."
When asked if he felt any pressure coming into the game with the Ponies, Joel
just smiled. "Definitely no pressure," Joel replied. "We have big-time
players and I am confident in what we are doing," Joel explained. "If you're
confident in what you're doing, you shouldn't be pressured. You just go out and perform
the way you know you can."
JD: 'I think we all like the pressure'
Jarett Dillard has certainly done that this year for the Feathered Flock. Does
Jarett feel the pressure of this upcoming week? "We're all excited," Dillard
said. "We're glad we're in this position. The pressure that's on us, I think we all
like the pressure, because we've been in some very confined situations. We're going to
play like it is our last game. That right there will give us the momentum we need."
During the fourth quarter of the ECU game, something took place on the Owl
sidelines that produced a spark. Senior Mike Falco turned to the offense and told all who
would listen, "I didn't come this far to lose this game. Losing isn't an
option." Mike had earned the right to speak that day on the sidelines. He backed up
his words with a quietly spectacular game, returning kickoffs for good yardage, and
catching what was thrown his way.
In case you haven't noticed, the defense has also started to come of age lately.
While the Owls had problems with the Pirates last week in the first half, the second half
was a different story. Apart from one long drive, the Pirates were held to one that's
right one yard total in the second half. Even more important, when the pressure was on,
the Owls responded.
There were two plays in particular that helped the Owls turn the tide and win
the game against the Pirates. The first play was in the third quarter, when ECU
quarterback Ed Pinkney dropped back to pass in his own end zone. When the yellow flag went
flying in the end zone during the play, it signaled holding on the Pirates in the end zone
and that the defense had risen up to do its job.
Courtney Gordon was the Owl defender that was taken down on that holding call.
"We knew that we had to get the ball right back to our offense. It's just a window of
opportunity right there in the end zone," he recalled. "A big play, a safety, we
needed it there." The pressure was on the Owls to do something. "I knew we were
going to get an interception or turnover," Gordon said. "I knew we were going to
get a safety or a sack. . . I knew we were going to get an interception or some kind of
The other play that was very important on the last drive was on second down,
when Andray Downs made a solo tackle on ECU running back Chris Johnson. Downs was the
last defender between Johnson and a touchdown that would have sealed the game for the
Pirates. Downs held onto Johnson with the tenacity of a rodeo cowboy taking down a
calf, and one play later, the Owls got the ball back for the game-winning drive.
We knew they were going to run, and we had to get across the line to stop
them, said Downs. Hed been trying to bounce outside, bounce
outside, all game, and I was just sitting there ready for him, Downs recalled.
Downs efforts did not go unnoticed by his teammates. Dray is a
playmaker, Gordon said of Downs. He steps up when his number is called, just
like everyone else, says Gordon. When they call your number on defense,
youve just got to rise up. Its our time to shine, and his number was
Courtney certainly knew the pressure was on the defense at that
time. Once again, we knew as a defense we had to stand up, he
said. If we were going to win this game, we were going to have to make a
stand, Gordon said.
Pressure is something that players and teams deal with in one of two
ways. They either react to it, unsure of how to handle it, or they respond to it in
confidence because they know what is coming and have been prepared for
it. Theres a refrain that the coaches havedo what youre coached to
do. For the players, it is a similar responsewere doing what we been
coached to do. One of the things that the players have been coached in how to respond
are pressure situations.
"It takes a lot of preparation so you're not guessing during games,"
Graham said. "It's really important that you're poised, that you have
confidence." He pointed to why this aspect of the game is so crucial by saying,
"When you can take your kids and tell them what we're going to do in fifteen seconds,
and then go on the field and do it, it's because they're smart, they're trained, and they
Pressure sure isn't an unwelcome stranger -- it's been a constant companion this
season. Because it has been a constant companion, this team is loose and ready to play
Saturday. Ask Courtney Gordon how loose this team is and you will get a surprising answer.
"Tell you the truth, I don't feel any pressure," says Gordon. Armstrong answers
by saying, "Definitely no pressure."
But perhaps Jarett Dillard said it best. "All people that want to win, tat
want to be champions, they love the pressure," Dillard told us. "When it comes,
they laugh at it in the face. I see a lot of players right now not even feeling it. So I
think it's going to be a good, exciting game coming up."
Chase Clement takes a licking and keeps on ticking, like an Energize Bunny who can throw a
perfect spiral (MA photo)
to get clean
bill of health
HOUSTON (Nov. 21) Apparently Chase Clement will get the opportunity
to visit some pain upon the SMU Mustangs instead of suffering malaise by himself when
Sammy and Peruna line up against each other on the Rice Stadium turf Saturday afternoon.
Sources closely involved with the Rice football program have stated to this
reporter that Chase did not, in fact, suffer an alleged broken collarbone as was
prematurely and erroneously reported by the Rice radio crew after the game Saturday.
Rather, he was taken to hospital for observation to make sure that he had not suffered a
concussion or other injury after taking several hard hits during the East Carolina game.
When Chase walked off the field into the Rice dressing room Saturday, he was motoring
under his own power although escorted by two Rice sideline personnel. He passed about five
feet away from this reporter, and he did not possess the sunken shoulder that is typical
of a broken collarbone. In fact, he appeared a bit woozy, but not in any sort of intense
Bear in mind that neither the Rice coaching staff nor Rice Sports Information has in
any way corroborated, confirmed nor denied the reports we otherwise have been able to
obtain. Rice officials have been mum, citing federal and NCAA regulations that
severely limit the ability of staff to issue injury reports, primarily for reasons of
student-athlete privacy. Suffice it to say that the same sources have proven
reliable before else we would not have been constrained to make this report.
Its doubtful the Chase will take any on-field reps during practice this week, but
one may be reasonably assured that hell be busy in the training room, soaking that
banged-up but still quite capable corpus. And if he gets into a football uniform Saturday,
it will be hard to keep him off the field.
The most important Rice-SMU game since...
(HOUSTON) Nov. 21 When the Rice Owls and the SMU Mustangs square
off against each other Saturday afternoon in Rice Stadium, it will mark the renewal of an
old rivalry that goes back all the way to 1916.
This game has special appeal and importance, however, for its the first time
that the Owls and Mustangs will clash to determine which one of them is going to a bowl
game, and which one of them is staying home.
"Who'd have thought at the beginning of the year this would be so meaningful for
both teams?" SMU coach Phil Bennett asked Monday during the leagues weekly
Not that the Owls and the Ponies havent squared off in some important
contests before. As recently as 2001, Rice went to Dallas to play SMU in the season finale
for both teams. The Institute Boys sported an 8-3 record going in to the game, and a
victory over SMU to finish the season, putting them at 9-3, would have made it almost
impossible for bowl committees to overlook Rice.
But alas, the day before the contest, SMU announced the firing of its coach,
Mike Cavan, which produced an outpouring of emotion from his players. Though the Owls led
the 3-7 Mustangs at halftime, 20-7, in the second half the Ponies completely shut down the
Rice offense and scored 30 unanswered points to win going away, 37-20.
So it reasonably can be said that the Ponies knocked the Owls out of a bowl game
a mere five years ago. Maybe its time that those tables be turned, this coming Saturday.
SMU has not won on the Rice Stadium turf since coming back from its "Death
Penalty" in 1989. Rice was the first team that the Ponies met, after coming back from
its near-death experience, playing the season opener before a packed house of 22,000 at
SMUs quaint Ownby Stadium, the Dallas schools original football home which was
demolished to make room for the current Ford Stadium.
The Owls won that game handily, 35-6, under the quarterbacking leadership of
Donald Hollas. And in fact the Feathered Flock went on to best Peruna for the next seven
years running. Starting in 1997, however, both teams have held a downright uncanny
home-field advantage over the other one.
Rice has continued to win every game played in Rice Stadium, while the Ponies
have won all but a single game played in Dallas a 41-20 loss to the Owls in 2003.
But Saturdays game has to be considered the most important Owl-Pony
contest since, well, looking back, since 1954, when a strong Owl team garnered victories
over Texas and Texas A&M but fell one game short of winning the Southwest Conference
that season and going to the Cotton Bowl.
And, you guessed it, that one loss that spoiled it all for the Owls was
sustained against SMU, who bested the Institute 20-6 in Rice Stadium on Oct. 16.
Despite a near-capacity crowd of over 60,000 in Rice Stadium (you heard us
right), and despite the considerable talents of Rices All-American halfback, Dickie
Moegle, ably assisted up front by guard Kenny Paul and tackle Eddie Rayburn, among other
Rice standouts, the Flock dropped the game to SMU, 20-6.
Although the 54 contest is ancient history, it did mark the first time
that the Mustangs were able to win over Rice and thereby knock them out of a bowl game. It
happened at least one more time in 2001. Question is, will the long-suffering Mustangs be
able to repeat the trick Saturday by defeating the Owls -- thus earning a bowling trip
themselves? A lot of SMU fans seem to think so.
But almost no Rice fans.
||Rice SID Bill Whitmore wrote this
pre-game piece which appeared in the 1954 Rice-SMU game program
||How's this for a mind-blowing trip down
memory lane? In that same '54 Rice-SMU program, top drawing teams in the NCAA were
listed, along with attendance figures. And RIce was eleventh in the nation.
Coach Graham's Monday press briefing...
"I'm going to do everything I can, night and day, to get them where they can
go and be successful this week..."
Media show up en
It's amazing what winning a few ball games can do for local media attention. After
big win, it was a 'seven-camera' crowd at the weekly Rice sports media
including several local sports anchors, all of whom were just full of
questions for Coach Todd
Graham. (PTH photo)
Snapshots -- Monday's Rice media luncheon
Courtney Gordon meets the press at Monday's luncheon
Would this, perhaps, be referred to as a phalanx of cameras?
Coach Graham has the look of a man who's heard that same question a few times before
Joel Armstrong was loose and comfortable before the cameras
Channel 26 sports anchor Marc Berman interviews Jarett Dillard -- better get used to it,