Nov. 21, 2009
Final Stats |
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
Rice senior linebacker Terrance Garmon acknowledged the presence of the spirit of Dale Lloyd early Saturday evening, a fitting reminder of a fallen friend whose memory lived on as the Owls celebrated Senior Day.
Before 13 Rice seniors took the field at Historic Rice Stadium for the final time, they presented Bridget Lloyd an armful of flowers to pay proper respect to her son Dale, who passed away following a workout with his teammates during the 2006 season. And just in case there were any nonbelievers present questioning whether Lloyd was indeed with his classmates as they battled UTEP, Lloyd intervened from the heavens, poking the ball away from Miners tailback Donald Buckram twice in the fourth quarter to pave the way for the Owls' 30-29 comeback victory.
Buckram rushed for 147 yards and three scores and set a UTEP single-season record for rushing yards with 1,569, but his fumbles snuffed potential scoring drives for the Miners, who were guilty of six turnovers and a dozen penalties. Rice (2-9, 2-5 Conference USA) willingly accepted the Miners' benevolence, converting those turnovers into 17 key points.
"We haven't produced a lot of turnovers," Garmon said. "I guess it all built up and we let it out all in one game. It was really nice to see people knocking out folks ... and people making plays. It was nice to see that."
The Owls took their first and only lead with 7:45 remaining when freshman tailback Charles Ross scored on a one-yard run to cap a four-play, 26-yard drive initiated when UTEP receiver Jeff Moturi fumbled a kickoff return immediately after the Owls closed to within 29-24 on Ross' second touchdown of the game 80 seconds earlier. Needing a field goal to retake the lead, the Miners (3-8, 2-5) briskly surged into Rice territory, but on a play originating from the Rice 12, Buckram absorbed a direct blow from Owls strong safety Willie Garley and fumbled across the goal line and out of the end zone resulting in a touchback that returned possession back to the Owls with 5:02 left in the contest.
"At that point you know it's meant to be," Owls safety Travis Bradshaw
said. "They're about to drive and score and it's our ball all of a sudden."
That scenario nearly repeated itself moments later. UTEP forced the Owls to punt, started a drive from its 39-yard line, and crossed midfield before Buckram took a lick from Bradshaw and coughed up the ball. Owls junior end Cheta Ozougwu (two sacks) recovered and fumbled, too, but Garmon pounced on the loose ball at the Rice 38 with 2:03 left.
The Owls didn't squander this opportunity to close out the Miners. UTEP exhausted its final timeout with 1:12 remaining and, facing third-and-four from the Rice 43, Owls sophomore tailback Tyler Smith gained 12 yards to seal the victory. For Smith the moment was particularly redemptive for it was against UTEP in 2007 that he suffered a catastrophic knee injury that sidelined him for the 2008 season.
"Being able to get that first down at the end with all the stuff that I have been through and now that I'm back was incredible," said Smith, whose 127 rushing yards represented a career best and was the highest total by an Owl since Quinton Smith, Tyler's older brother, rushed for 171 yards at UTEP in 2006. "This is a blessing."
The Owls' second consecutive win came courtesy of an attitude adjustment on defense and a resilient offensive performance. Buckram gashed the Owls for 115 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, helping the Miners to a 20-10 halftime advantage. The second half was a different story altogether, as Buckram produced just 32 yards on 16 attempts and fell victim to the Owls' ball-hunting tactics in the fourth.
As the game unfolded the Owls noticed that Buckram wasn't securing the ball properly, and they made an adjustment to rake at it on the fly. Marlon McClure, Jason Williams and Moturi were guilty of fumbles, too, but Buckram, the nation's second-leading rusher, was the Owls' target.
"We had momentum on our side," said Bradshaw, who finished with a game-high 13 tackles and forced two fumbles. "After a fumble you're always going to have momentum, so once the offense went out there they had the feeling that they were going to take it in (for a score)."
McClure fumbled the kickoff following Ross' first touchdown, a one-yard run that cut the deficit to 13-7 with 13:22 left in the first half. The Owls parlayed that turnover into a Clark Fangmeier field goal, but when Jarrett Ben picked off UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe early in the third quarter, the Owls produced seven points to close to within 20-17. Smith scored on a shifty 12-yard run for his first career touchdown.
By that juncture momentum rested squarely with the Owls. All they needed to do was finish the task at hand and rely on the inspiration provided by Lloyd, who was presented the game ball posthumously.
"I definitely feel like his spirit was here tonight," Garmon said. "I know to his parents this meant a whole lot, and just seeing them meant a whole lot. I'm just happy that we were able to dedicate the ball to him."