Rice 20, North Texas 14

Rice running back Charlie Booker, having evaded several would-be tacklers, is in the clear and streaking for the end zone (David Speed Elder photo)

Ekenna Enechukwu gets a big solo sack on UNT quarterback Mason Fine for a loss of 13 and a fourth down, second quarter (PTH photo)


HOUSTON (Nov. 23) – The table looked set; the script seemed written.


Late in the game, when the University of North Texas offense took the field after a Rice fumble set them up at the Owl 23 yard line, a 20-0 Rice halftime lead -- and the game -- appeared in severe danger of being frittered away.


UNT had managed to push across two second-half TDs against a relentlessly stingy Rice defense, and was only a stone’s throw away from another which would have put the Mean Green up by a point.


After a dominating first half, the Owl offense had gone simply nowhere during the second, and a UNT score here would almost certainly have spelled doom for the locals.


But the Rice defense wasn’t going away, despite the task that awaited them. “It was so short,” Rice linebacker and defensive team leader Blaze Alldredge said postgame. “So we come out with our backs against the wall, and you say to yourself, ‘you know what? I’m a man, and I’m not going to let circumstances define me.’”


This time, for the second straight week, Blaze and his teammates surely didn’t let circumstances define them. Aided by a holding penalty, Owl defenders had been able to contain vaunted UNT quarterback Mason Fine as he faced a third down and twelve at the Rice 15, with under five minutes to play.


Fine had UNT receiver Mike Lawrence camped in the end zone, ready for the ball. But suddenly one Blaze Aldredge was hell bent for a sack,  causing Fine to hurry his throw, which the Owls’ Naeem Smith then was able to bat away.


Now it was fourth and 12, and the next play almost certainly would be for the game.


The Mean Green lined up as if they were going to send in the field goal unit, causing intended confusion on the Rice side. Suddenly, though, UNT lined up straightaway, and Fine once again was determined to connect with Lawrence, his favorite receiver. The Rice defense was not at all fully set. A dramatic, movie-style comeback win for the Denton folks seemed almost a sure thing.

Enter one Treshawn Chamberlain


But Treshawn Chamberlain had different ideas. In a similar situation against Louisiana Tech, he’d gone for the pick and had failed to make the play. This time, though, he turned into a heat-seeking missile. Ball, receiver and defender collided in the end zone.


This time Treshawn made the play, in spectacular fashion, separating the receiver from ball with a perfectly timed, crushing below. The would-be winning drive was thwarted. The ball went over to the Owls.


So was the game over at that point?


Not entirely.  Three minutes still remained, and a moribund Rice offense hadn’t moved the ball the entire second half.


But it was to their credit that they picked this time of the game to stage a resurgence.  Points weren’t necessary, so long as the Owls were able to maintain possession.  They needed first downs.


First two plays went nowhere.  Third and eleven.  The UNT denizens in attendance rose up, sensing the chance for a win was still there.


Tom Stewart dropped back, received good protection, and heaved the ball 35 yards downfield to his lanky wide receiver, Bradley Rozner, he of the three-touchdown-catches performance in the Middle Tennessee victory.


The Man from Needville lept high and arched his body over the outstretched arms of the UNT defender. A sky-high grab, a tumble to the turf, and that was it. Church was out.  The game belonged to the Owls.


“I’ve got to give a big shout-out to Roz,” Rice senior quarterback Tom Stewart said, postgame. “When the game was on the line, we knew we were going to get him in a one-on-one.  They gave him the inside, which is not ideal – but it gave him a chance to make a play. And he did.”


“You know, it was a conversation between Coach Mack and I,” Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren explained.  “And I did not want the clock to stop. So there was part of me that didn’t want Roz to have the one-on-one. And then luckily there was a media time out, and we talked through it, and we both said, ‘look, if they give Roz the one-on-one, we’ve got to take it, to give Roz a chance.’

“And what a play it was in that ball game.  Holy cow.”


Would-be rout turned into a nail-biter

A nailbiter of nailbiters, it turned out in the end.  But for the first half of the game, it looked as if a Rice rout were on. The Feathered Flock scored on four of its first five possessions, while the defense, led by Treshawn Chamberlain and Blaze Alldredge, played shutout ball the duration of the first half.


The defense started with an emphatic couple of statements.  UNT got the opening kickoff , and went nowhere, Treshawn Chemberlain nailing  UNT's Tre Stiggers for no gain on second down. Then, after an incompletion on third down, North Texas had to punt it away.


The Rice offense started out crisply, getting as far as the Mean Green 30 to set up a 48-yard field goal by Chris Barnes. It was a career-long kick by Chris, not so much a thing of beauty but it wobbled on and on, clearing the uprights with room to spare.


On the Mean Green's first play after the kickoff, Treshawn went horizontal to pick off Mason Fine at the UNT 39. Three rushes by Charlie Booker moved the ball to the UNT 28 before Aston Walter harkened back to his days as a high school quarterback in completing a 27-yard pass to Jordan Myers at the North Texas one yard line. Walter dove over the line on the next play for his ninth touchdown of the year to extend the lead to 10-0.


The Owls stymied North Texas on their next possession, forcing another three-and-out, but the Mean Green looked poised to strike back after recovering a Rice fumble at the Owls 49.  But on their first play from scrimmage, Naeem Smith knocked the ball free from Stiggers and Kenneth Orji recovered at the Rice 42.


The Owls in turned rolled 50 yards in six plays for the touch, highlighted by a 24-yard run by Harvard grad Charlie Booker to reach the Mean Green eight as the first quarter ended. Running bull-like, straight up and hard, Charlie next play mashed his way into the end zone to give the Owls a 17-0 lead.


On their next possession, the Greenies once again went nowhere, with an emphatic sack on UNT QB Fine by Isaac Enechukwu resulting in a loss of 13 and a fourth and long.


The ensuing UNT punt was returned by Austin Trammell for 19 yards to the North Texas 46.  From there, the Owls rolled as far as the Greenster three yard line before stalling out.  So Chris Barnes took out his nine-iron and chipped in a 20-yard field goal to make it 20-0, Rice.


In the back of the mind of long-suffering Owl fans, there might have been a faint voice that said, “man, that should have been six and we should be up now 24-0.”  But gee whiz, 20 to nothing?  When was the last time that happened?


Beyond that, three straight Mason Fine incompletions under a hard Rice rush added up to a three-and-out on UNT’s next possession.  In return, the Owls once again moved the ball, but this time, after a couple of first downs, they bogged down and had to punt for the only time in the first half.


So Rice took that 20-0 lead into the halftime locker room, and the tale of the tape, at that point, told the whole story of Rice’s first-half dominance.


Fourteen Rice first down to UNT’s two; 228 yards to North Texas’ 51. Four yards rushing for the Mean Green in ten attempts.  Time of possession:  22:15, Rice, to 7:45, UNT.  And the Owls were getting the ball to start off the second half.

Second half another offensive fizzle


Unfortunately, Rice’s second half offensive effort pretty much replicated that of the week before, starting with a three-and-out on that opening third quarter possession.


Although North Texas still had trouble moving the ball themselves. one could feel sssured that UNT, behind two-time Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year Mason Fine, couldn’t be held off forever.


Eventually, as in midway in the third quarter, Fine began to click on the pinpoint short passing game.  The result was a 69-yard UNT drive that finally put the Greenies on the board, at 20-7.


Still no Rice offense.  The defense held tough, grudgingly giving up each yard, but the Mean Green pulled to within six points with 7:32 left in the game as Tre Siggers scored from one yard out on fourth and goal.


On the ensuing kickoff return, the always-reliable Austin Trammell was hit by flak in midair as a UNT defender managed the knock the ball loose.  That’s what set up the Mean Green at the Rice 23 yard line, and you know the rest of the story.


“I think it was something we talked about – winning three,” Coach Bloomgren told a decent-sized press contingent afterwards. “And hopefully there’s going to be many more locker rooms like the one we just experienced, which was so much fun, and such a great reward for our football team. That was a big win from our football team today.”


Post-script…we close with a direct quote from Coach Bloom’s postgame presser, sans comment or embellishment, as none is needed.


“Going back to the adversity, we had a freshman walkon center, in Isaac Karkowski, who started the game, and played all but probably five snaps today.  He had never taken a college football snap; he found out yesterday afternoon that he was going to be starting.  He did not take a single live prep with the ‘ones’ or the “twos’ on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.  We just had the flu running rampant through our building, and we had some guys who couldn’t practice on Friday, and we had to make some changes late. Then today, during the game, Aston Walter could not continue, even with an IV. So Charlie Booker, another senior, had to step in and take on that role.”

--PTH, with a boost from Rice SID Chuck Pool