Nov. 19, 2011
On a day when 25 seniors bid farewell to Rice Stadium, three fifth-year players made certain they would close out their home careers on a winning note as they led Rice to a 19-7 victory over Tulane 19-7 on Saturday.
Senior defensive end Scott Solomon, who has battled a series of injuries for the later half this season, tied the school career sack record with a pair of quarterback drops, while linebacker Justin Allen added a pair of key tackles for losses to lead the defense. Tyler Smith rushed for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns, continuing his late-season surge to lead the offense. The win was the Owls ninth consecutive home win in November and raised their home record this season to 4-1.
"It was really exciting to see this football team win with seniors on the Senior Day and was proud for them to have this memory," Rice head coach David Bailiff said. "For their last home game, it gave them a lot of motivation for when we got on the road and go play the SMU."
"Coming down (the ramp to be introduced in pregame ceremonies), I was flooded with emotions just like the other seniors, but once we got going we just had fun," Solomon said. "We made plays, and I felt like if you have fun out there you make plays, and I think that was the biggest thing today."
"We kind of struggled at the beginning, we had too many emotions," Smith noted. "But we pushed through it and came out with a win."
The Owls took a 13-0 lead into the fourth quarter, thanks to a Smith five-yard run in the first quarter and a pair of long distance field goals by Chris Boswell. But the Green Wave cut that margin to 13-7 thanks to a 16-play, 75-yard drive that ate up over six minutes. Rice was unable to move the ball on its next possession, and Tulane set up at its own 20 with 6:36 to go looking to take advantage of the tired Owls defense.
However, Solomon and fellow senior Justin Allen quickly spoiled those plans. Allen broke up a pass on first down and then Solomon followed with his second sack of Tulane's Ryan Griffin, dropping him for a five-yard loss to bring his career sack total to 24, matching Brandon Green (1999-2002) for the most in school history. Allen then stopped Orleans Darkwa for a loss on a pass reception on third down to end the Tulane possession and set up Smith for a final drive to the clinching touchdown.
Smith carried the ball 10 times in the final quarter for 69 yards, including 55 of the 60 yards the Owls needed in their final drive. He clinched the win with a 12-yard bolt up the east sideline, diving into the end zone with just over one minute left. "You want guys to rise up and make those plays," Bailiff said "Guys, especially senior guys like Justin and Scott, are the reason that we kept them out of the end zone and we got the ball back. But we're just so proud for Scott for everything that he's been through."
Boswell moved to within one field goal of the Rice season record, connecting twice into the wind from over 50 yards. He blasted a 54-yarder in the second quarter, matching the third longest field goal in school history and added a 51-yarder in the third quarter. He now has three field goals of at least 50 yards this season, and five in his career, matching James Hamrick on both accounts.
Solomon's two sacks gave him a career-high 8.5 this season, which ranks second to Green's 12 in school history. He also raised his career tackles for loss total to 42.5, also second all-time. But he was quick to share any acclaim his career totals might generate.
"I don't think it's an individual effort at all, it's a team effort," he noted. "From the coaching staff all the way down to the players: everything. It means a lot to me, but I feel likes it's everyone else contributing."
The Owls will close out the 2011 season next Saturday when they fact the SMU Mustangs at Gerald Ford Stadium in Dallas. Kickoff is set for 11 am and the game will be telecast by Fox Sports.