Houston, Texas - by Chuck Pool (email@example.com)
Maybe Zach Wright should find a banquet to attend every night before a Rice Football game.
After attending the ceremony in which his mother was inducted into the Rice Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday night, the junior wide receiver from The Woodlands provided the kind of ending to his mother's special weekend that no screen writer would dare to concoct.
In a driving rain that signaled the arrival of the remnants of Hurricane Patricia to Houston, Wright gathered in a wobbling delivery from quarterback Driphus Jackson to cap a frantic 75-yard drive in the final two minutes to give Rice a 38-31 win over Army West Point.
Rice won its second straight in its final non-conference game of the year to improve to 4-3 on the season. Army fell to 2-6, with five of those six losses coming by a combined 23 points.
"I happened to be the guy at the end who got the call," Wright said. "It could have been anybody else. It was just the ugliest, most beautiful ball I'd ever seen. I thought he'd punted it. I owed him one. I almost got in the end zone earlier so I knew I had to get one for Driphus, so I caught that ugly thing."
Holly Jones-Wright was introduced to the crowd of 24,490 along with her fellow honorees near the end of the first quarter as the Owls held a 14-0 lead, the second touchdown coming on a short run after Zach was stopped at the goal line after a 22-yard reception.
As she settled back into her seat for the rest of the game, she saw Army trade scores with Rice over the next two quarters before tying the game up with 10 points late in the fourth quarter, setting up her son's game-winning heroics.
Jackson's game winning toss to Wright completed a day in which he completed 20 of 30 passes for 267 yards and two scores, and erased the sting of a fumble on the previous series on the Rice 10 which put the Black Knights in prime position to grab the lead with just over four minutes left in the game.
Linebacker Alex Lyons, who finished with a season-high 10 tackles, personally stalled the scoring threat, having a hand in all three tackles to force a 19-yard field goal from Daniel Grochowski which knotted the game at 31-31 with 2:13 remaining.
"We put them in a tough situation down there on the goal line (three minutes left in the game), and that was the game there," Wright said. "You can say what you want about the offensive drive, but them holding Army there to a field goal; that's the game. Defense gets the 'W' for that."
Taking over at his 25, Jackson found Temi Alaka up the west sideline for a gain of 17. Two plays later, he converted a crucial third down by hitting Luke Turner for 11 over the middle. Darik Dillard followed with runs of 20 and 12 to reach the Army 12 and forcing a Black Knight time out.
As the rain that had been a steady presence throughout the day began to pound Rice Stadium, Jackson brought the Owls to the line of scrimmage and saw an opportunity.
"Coach (Larry) Edmondson made a great call, and it's something he preaches to me all the time at practice: the most unguarded spot on the football field is right up under the goal post," Jackson said. "They were in a coverage that took away my primary read, and I was just trying to get the ball to the back of the end zone and just put some air under it. It was an ugly ball, but Zach came down with it."
Rice head coach David Bailiff praised Jackson for shaking off the earlier fumble and leading the Owls to the winning score.
"For Driphus (Jackson) to move the offense down the field and to score with 24 seconds left in the game is big-time," Bailiff said. "There's something special about a fifth-year quarterback, and there's something special about Driphus. He likes those moments (final drive) and he's at his best. He's got incredible focus and incredible energy. "
Dillard led the Owls in rushing for the second consecutive week, finishing the day with 89 yards on 10 carries. He also shared a flair for celebrating the 2015 Hall of Fame class with Wright, as his 34-yard touchdown on the Owls' first possession allowed him and brother Jarett, who joined Jones-Wright as an inductee, to tie James and Jaquizz Rodgers for the most combined touchdowns by siblings in NCAA history with 81.
Alaka enjoyed a career day, matching Wright for the team lead with six catches on a career-high 98 yards.
The Owls will have to quickly put the glow of the win over Army behind them, as a key Conference USA showdown with Louisiana Tech awaits on Friday at Rice Stadium.
The glow will likely last a little longer in the Wright household.
"I saw her in the first quarter after I didn't score and she told me `we're so disappointed. I told her `I', m not a Hall of Famer, I'm a sorry, I'm a possession receiver," Zach Wright said. "I saw her again after the game and this must be the best weekend of her life. I am so proud of her. Last night I was awesome. I am Holly Wright's son and I am proud of it."