Rice 56, UTEP 48
HOUSTON (Nov. 4) -- If, in the eventual course of events, Rice football coach David Bailiff settles in for a long, successful reign as the head man on South Main, at the end of it all he'll be able to look back fondly on a balmy autumn afternoon in the early November of 2007 as the day the earth turned on its axis, and things started to break his way.
For it was on that day that, in an almost supernatural turn of events highlighted by an almost superhuman individual performance, the Rice Owls managed to slough off seven turnovers -- nine, really, if one counts the two onsides kicks they surrendered in addition to four interceptions and three fumbles -- en route to overcoming a three-touchdown deficit with four scores in the last 11 minutes of play to win going away over a stunned University of Texas - El Paso team, 56-48.
Propelled by an eight-touchdown performance on the part of veteran Rice quarterback Chase Clement, the Owls took command and control of a game that had been written off midway in the third quarter by the better part of the Homecoming- attending alumni in attendance, many of whom wandered away toward reunion parties, having done so missing one of the more remarkable comebacks ever staged by an Institute eleven.
Now, we've tossed out enough numbers to choke an actuary in the last couple of paragraphs, but you haven't yet heard of even the half of it.
When Owl defensive lineman George Chukwu summoned his avoirdupois sufficiently skyward to block a Jose Martinez extra point attempt in the waning seconds of the third quarter, the Miners led only 48-28 instead of by a point more -- although no alarm bells went off on the visitor's side of the field at the time.
But it was at that point that Chase Clement settled into a zone-to-end-all-zones, as he ran and tossed the Owls goalward for three touchdowns within in a span of just under five minutes, the last a six-yarder to Jarett Dillard that put Rice ahead 49-48 with 6:19 remaining. Not to be undone, he added icing on the cake with a nine-yard touchdown jaunt of his own in the waning minutes to provide the Owls with their final margin of victory.
In so doing, Chase set a Conference USA record by accounting for eight touchdowns, while completing 32 of 58 passes for 395 yards and running for 103 yards. His six passing touchdowns set a Rice record and tied the conference mark, and his 498 total yards was a school record.
UTEP's 48 points deceptive, regarding Rice defensive effort
But regarding such a point bonanza on paper, the casual onlooker would scarcely realize that, in the end, the weary Owl warriors attributed their efforts on the defensive side as the factor that won the day.
'Defense... defense, defense -- I could name them all; everybody just played an amazing game, and it was the defense that kept the offense in the game," Rice receiving sensation Jarett Dillard said afterwards. "They just gave us opportunity after opportunity, and that helped us in shaking off the bad plays we made on offense -- the fumbles, the interceptions. So we just give it all up to the defense in this game."
In fact, the UTEP offense, in totaling 48 points, had to travel farther than from their own 45-yard line only three times in the game. Everything else was done on the cheap, a short field advantage caused by Rice offensive miscues and turnovers.
Meanwhile, the Rice defense came up bigger than it had all season, despite UTEP's gaudy point total. Be that as it may, the Miners were forced into six punts on the day, and their last five possession went like this: negative 13 yards and a missed field goal after a recovered fumble, punt, lost fumble, punt, over on downs, over on downs. During that five-possession skein, the UTEPsans managed but 19 yards total offense against a beleaguered but determined Owl defensive unit.
"Chase was awesome in the fourth quarter," Rice linebacker and defensive leader Brian Raines said afterwards. "They wanted it. They said they were going to do it, and they went out and did it because they knew we (the Rice defense) had their backs."
"I'm so amazed at this team," Brian added. "The guys never quit from start to finish. I feel like we did a lot of things right to get this win."
Owls got off to a fast start
The first thing the Owls did right was to start the game with a bang. On UTEPs very first play from scrimmage, Brian Raines roared end to disrupt the handoff to UTEP running back Marcus Thomas, who promptly fumbled and Gary Anderson was there to make the recovery at the UTEP 11 yard line.
First play, Chase found Toren Dixon open in the corner of the end zone and the Owls had themselves a 7-0 lead.
Meanwhile, the Rice defense bent but didnt break, slowing down the potent UTEP attack enough to force a pair of Martinez field goals. In between them, Chase drove the Owls in seven plays to put the Owls up, 14-3. Key on that drive was a 35-yard deep sideline route to Patrick Randolph, which set up the Owls in business at UTEP 13.
Still, one play deep into the second quarter, the Owls had their 14-6 lead and, up to that point, had thoroughly outplayed the Miners on both sides of the ball. But then UTEP picked up a couple of cheapies.
First, a short Rice punt and a Fred Rouse return to the Owl 22 yard line gave the Miners a short field to work with. And they scored in three plays, the last seven coming via a Vittatoe to Marcu Thomas pass.
The Owls stormed right back and got the ball as far as the UTEP 22, where Justin Hill of the football on second a two, and the scoring chance was squandered.
The Rice defense held, but the field position was far from optimal, and when Chase Clement found his offensive unit operating from his own 17, he threw an errant pass which was picked off by UTEPs Cornelius Brown, who returned it all the way to the Rice five yard line.
One play later, Vittatoe connected with his Jake Sears in the end zone, and the Miners had themselves a 20-14 lead, with hardly having broken a sweat on offense in getting there.
The Owls had another first-half drive within themselves, however, and after JaCorey Shepherd returned the ensuing kickoff for 32 yards, Rice fashioned a 68-yard touchdown drive to close out first-half scoring. Jarett Dillard had four catches on that drive, and capped it with a touchdown reception from two yards out.
Third quarter began well, turned rotten
The third quarter was pretty much all bad news for the Owls, even though it began promisingly. UTEP went three-and-out upon receiving the second-half kickoff (the Owl defense, amazingly, had seven three-and-outs on the day, which says something about the distances UTEP had to travel to score 48 points).
Immediately, then, immediately Chase connected with Jarett Dillard across the middle, and it was a footrace between JD and his old nemesis, UTEP defensive back Quentin Demps, to the goal line. Jarett appeared to have the ball well in hand, but a second defender came on as well, and Demps managed to strip away the football as the trio fell to a heap at the UTEP 11.
"Im kind of upset about that fumble," Jarett said. "We talked about it in the fourth quarter; you know; he told me, I got one from you."
A moment later, Miner QB Vittatoe connected with his bad-boy wide receiver Fred Rouse, who went up with an Owl defender with equal priority on the ball. It was going to be either an interception, or a quick six -- and the talented, though visibly thuggish, Rouse pulled the ball in and danced his way down the field, 76 yards for the score.
So the Owls, instead of being up, 28-20, like they "should of" been, to use the El Pasoan term, were down 27-21 -- and things got worse from there.
Next possession, Chase Clement misfired on a deep pass, and the aforementioned Quentin Demps was there in centerfield to pick it off. A personal foul against the Owls set up UTEP at their own 45, and from there, the Miners took five plays to go the distance -- all of it on the ground (except for a dubious roughing-the-passer penalty against the Owls), all of it gained by Miner running back Marcus Thomas, for whom the Owls, all of a sudden, seemed to have no answer.
Still, the Owls came back and stormed 75 yards in 11 plays to cut the lead to 35-28 with 4:50 left in the third. Clearly, the Rice offense was still clicking, but the defense was rocked back on its heels, and the Feathered Flock gave up two more TDs before settling down to play some serious ball. UTEP's next score was on a 79-yard drive, but then the Miners picked up another cheapie. when UTEP's Jason Boyce picked off a tipped Clement pass at the Rice 28.
Chase said he had a man open in the flat, and if the ball had not been tipped it well might have meant six more points for the Owls. "I was definitely a little bit frustrated because, when you look at that play, if that didn't get tipped, Justin (Hill) is going to catch that and go score," he said afterwards. "There was nobody out there except for Rice blockers and (room) for him to run.
"After that, we knew that we had to be perfect the rest of the game."
Definitely so, for as it went, the turnover led to six more UTEP points when seconds later Vittatoe hit Joe West for the score from 23 yards out. Fourteen minutes were left on the scoreboard clock at that point, and, down 20 points, it appeared the Owls were out of this one.
George's PAT block seemed to arouse Owl 'D'
But that was where Big George rose up to block the extra point attempt, and that seemed to arouse the Rice defense. Yet the Owls had not yet reached their nadir. For on the ensuing kickoff, the Owls fumbled away the return at their own 21 yard line -- and that really sent the alumni groping for the exits, looking for the nearest martini -- make that a double, waiter.
This time, though, the Owl defense was through giving up anything for the day. The Miners were pushed backwards, and when Joe Martinez missed a 51-yard field goal attempt, 13 minutes remained in the game, Rice wound up with the ball, 66 yards away from pay dirt. And that's when Chase went into his Zone.
His first comeback drive was a blue-collar one, mixing the pass, run, and quarterback scramble; finally connecting with Tommy Henderson from eight yards out. But naturally, as has so often happened this season, the Rice special teams gave up a long kickoff return after a key score, when the aforementioned thug extraordinaire Fred Rouse returnrd the ensuing kickoff 33 yards to the UTEP 45.
The Miners couldn't work the ball past midfield against the Rice defense, however, and had to punt out from that point. Ja'Corey Shepherd did a good job of fielding the punt inside his five yard line and working it out to the Rice 18, to give Chase and the offense at least a smidgen of breathing room.
But that didn't seem to help, as three straight incompletions brought up a fourth and ten, and back onto the field came punter Luke Juist. He sent up a high pop fly that UTEP's Rouse attempted to fair catch at the 50. But he misjudged the trajectory and had to lurch forward at the last moment, bobbling the ball right into the hands of an awaiting James Casey. So the Owls were in bidness at the UTEP 46, with just over nine minutes remaining.
Rice go-to guy Jarett Dillard said that fumbled point was the defining moment in the game. "I saw the ball kicked, and I didn't think anything of it," he said. "But as it was coming down, I was just thinking, "fumble!" Right when it hit him, he fumbled, and James Casey recovered it, and I just stood there with amazement, thinking, 'there it is'."
The time was getting late, so the Owls eschewed the run and kept the ball in the air, mostly throwing underneath coverage to pick up the easy yardage. It took eight plays for Rice to go the 46 yards for the score, Chase hitting Toren Dixon on second and goal from the six. At that point, the scoreboard clock showed 7:18 to play, and it was now 48-42. All of a sudden, Big George's blocked extra point loomed large.
And it loomed even larger just a moment later. On the ensuing kickoff, Luke Juist sent an absolutely delicious high pop fly that wasn't quite a deep kick; wasn't exactly a pooch kick either. What it did was land right in the no-man's land between the UTEP deep backs and the up-backs, and there, a host of Owls swarmed over it. After the ball had bounced through the hands of several Rice players, the Owls wound up with possession at the UTEP 11 yard line -- and the small remaining contingent of Owl fans who'd vowed to stay to the bitter end went wild.
But this time, the UTEP defense stiffened its back, and and it looked as if all might be for naught when the Owls faced fourth down and five from the UTEP six yard line.
So Chase set back in the pocket patiently, and waited for someone to get open in the end zone. And guess who that someone was-- yep, it was JD, who'd looped back around from the far side and was camped out wide open, five yards deep in the end zone toward the home side of the field.
"That was just the pure D scramble drill," Marshall Dillard said. "We worked on that in practice; that's exactly what you've got to do. With Chase rolling out; all the receivers know what you've got to do -- get in a window; find a pocket. And that's exactly what I was doing in the end zone. Chase saw me and tossed it up there, and I came down with the ball."
So when Clark Fangmeier booted through the PAT, the Owls, shockingly, were in the lead, 49-48. And it happened almost too soon, for there still remained 6:13 left on the clock.
Nothing doing for UTEP after Owls took lead
But that didn't perturb the Rice defense, which went out and snuffed the UTEP offensive effort by forcing three straight incomplete passes. UTEP punted out, and the thought in the stands was that the Owls just might be able to muster enough ground game to run out the clock.
So James Casey ran for a yard, and Chase Clement rushed for five more. It was third and four from the Rice 32, with just over four minutes remaining. The Owls needed a first down, big-time.
And get one, they did. With Chase executing the zone read left, and with the UTEP defense bunched up to stop the short yardage run, the feisty Owl quarterback found room to roam and set sail. Fifty-nine yards later, he was finally pushed out of bounds at the UTEP nine yard line. Next play, he dropped back, saw an open seam, and dashed into the end zone.
That made it 56-48, and with it, Chase's eighth touchdown of the day, counting the pass and the run, tearing just a huge hole in the Rice record book. The Owl defense made sure UTEP did not threaten in the waning moments of the game, and the Rice Owls walked off the field with one heck of a big win.
"What a hard, hard fought victory," a happy David Bailiff told press afterwards. "What a tribute to our kids for them to be down 20 points and to never give up, and to continue to fight back. Even when we made mistakes the guys still went and took chances and risks to make the play and I think thats important sometimes."
"We have some guys playing out of position, because thats where we are right now, and hose guys are going in there and playing their absolute heart out. I told them to enjoy this one but we have to get ready for SMU next week."