By Chuck Pool (cpool@Rice.edu) -
Looking to break into the win column for the first time in 2016, the Rice Owls seemed poised to write their own miraculous addition to a college football script already brimming with improbable endings, only to see a furious final five minutes end in disappointment as UTSA held on for a 14-13 win at Rice Stadium on Saturday night.
The Owls moved inside the UTSA 30 twice in the game's final moments, only to see one field goal attempt go astray and then the game end when a receiver was tackled inbounds and they were unable to kill the clock.
Rice stopped the Roadrunners on fourth down at the Rice five with five minutes left and drove to the UTSA 24, but when Haden Tobola's 42-yard field goal attempt drifted wide to the right, the game appeared over until the Rice defense made three stops and used its timeouts to force a punt and take possession at its own 36 with 20 seconds left. Tyler Stehling hit Kylen Granson for a 18-yard gain to the UTSA 46 and one play later, he found the true freshman again for 19 yards, but he was hauled down inbounds and the clock ran out on the Owls' hopes.
"You're really heartbroken for our football team in that locker room right now because they fought, tried so hard and fought," Rice head coach David Bailiff said. "Haden had really been outstanding kicking this season but today we missed a couple. But like I just told the team, it wasn't those plays that cost us the game. It really shouldn't have come down to that."
Rice came flying out of the gate, fashioning the longest scoring drive of the year on its first possession, an 84-yard march capped by a 13-yard run by Stehling. But Tobola's extra point was wide to the right and when UTSA's Josh Stewart broke free for a 75-yard touchdown, it gave the Roadrunners a lead they would never relinquish.
Other than Stewart's play, the Owls held a UTSA offense which had scorched Southern Miss for school records of 532 yards of total offense and 339 yards on the ground in check. Led by linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee's fourth consecutive double digit tackle game (12) and safety Tabari McGaskey's career-high 10, the Owls held UTSA to an average of 3.3 yards on the ground and just 334 yards on the night.
McGaskey and friends rose up most dramatically when the game was on the line.
He made back-to-back stops on third and fourth down to set up the Owls with 5:00 left and then sophomore defensive tackle Carl Thompson was credited with three of his seven tackles on the final series to give the Owls on last gasp.
Stehling threw for a career-high 237 yards and one touchdown in addition to his first-quarter touchdown run. Connor Cella caught a career-high six passes while Samuel Stewart ran for 78 yards (63 in the second half) and also caught five passes for 33 yards.
Rice fell to 0-6 on the year (0-4 in Conference USA). The Owls will venture outside the conference next weekend when it hosts Prairie View for its 97th Homecoming game next Saturday at 2:30.
"We've got a bunch of guys with incredible character and the only way to get through this is to keep working," Bailiff said. "That locker room is a hurting locker room right now. But these guys believe in each other and we'll work through this."