The dominant player was Hurricane Patricia, but it was Rice that made the decisive play, scoring a touchdown with 24 seconds remaining in the game to defeat Army 38-31 Saturday at Rice Stadium. The game, played alternately in light rain and near monsoon-like conditions, was the Black Knights’ sixth of the year, ensuring they would finish the season with a losing record, their fifth such season in a row.
“We’re pleased to get out with a win,” Rice coach Dave Bailiff said. Then, speaking of the closeness of the game, he said, “It was a game we didn’t want, but was expected.”
Actually, if the Owls were looking for a walk-through, there was every indication early they might have it. On the opening kickoff, Austin Walker returned the ball 36 yards, giving Rice excellent field position as they took the field. And it took it just four plays to take the early lead, the last coming on Darik Dillard’s 34-yard touchdown run.
It was then Army’s turn, and it took little time for the Owls to begin its early dominance. After Temple was flagged for an offside penalty before the Black Knights could even run a play, quarterback A.J.Schurr was tackled for a 1-yard loss, had the ball knocked free by Brian Komac and recovered by Destri White at the Army 23. It took the Owls 19 seconds to cash in. A 22-yard pass from Driphus Jackson to Zach Wright placed the ball at the goal line. Samuel Stewart ran it in on the subsequent play. In just 1 minute, 22 seconds Rice had a 14-0 lead.
The Black Knights tried to be clever on their next possession. Having driven the ball from their own 22 to the Rice 27, Army lined up for a field goal; instead Schurr, the holder, stood up and passed to Kelvin White. Facing a fourth and 11, the 2-yard completion was way short. Neither team could do much the rest of the first quarter, but Army began its first scoring drive with 1:09 left in the first on a Schurr incompletion. On the following play – the last of the quarter – Schurr broke through a tackle at the Army 5, then was off and running; by the time he was tackled by V.J. Banks, he had gained 71 yards, bringing the ball down to the Rice 26. It was a career-best run for Schurr. His previous high was a 56-yard gain three weeks ago against Penn State.
Three short runs – two by Schurr, one by Aaron Kemper – left the ball at the Rice 16, at which time Schurr hit DeAndre Bell for a touchdown, the play highlighted by Bell twisting away from a defender at the 5 and then scoring easily. The 97-yard drive was Army’s longest of the season. Schurr ended the game with two completions for 18 yards, but he rushed for 129 yards on 14 carries, an average of 9.2 per rush. It was Schurr’s third start of the season. Sophomore quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw missed his second game of the season after injuring his right shoulder in the first quarter of Army’s 21-14 victory over Bucknell last week.
Army punter Alex Tardieu had a rough day, averaging just over 36 yards on five attempts, and when the Black Knights were stopped at their own 22, a 36-yard punt gave the Owls the ball at their own 42. Two 19-yard runs by Walter Austin and an 11-yard completion to Wright brought the ball to the Army 3. Walter rushed for only one yard and Luke Turner was stood up at the line, but on third down Turner’s 2-yard run gave Rice a 21-7 lead.
It was Army’s turn, and once again a big play got the Black Knights moving. Kemper, who finished with a game-high 129 yards, broke through on the first play, running 69 yards until he was caught from behind by Rice’s Cole Thomas at the Rice 6. Schurr ran it in on the next play, once again drawing Army within a touchdown, 21-14. A portent for how the game would end occurred on Rice’s final drive of the first half. Starting at its own 7, completions by Jackson of 28 yards to Nate German and 52 yards to Temi Alaka left Rice with a first and goal at the 10. Rice could only manage six yards on the ground in three plays before Hayden Tobola struck a 25-yard field goal on the last play of the first half, leaving the Owls with a 24-14 lead.
Both teams were shooting blanks through most of the third quarter, but Army took advantage of a big defensive play, when, on Rice’s first play at its own 38, defensive lineman Jordan Smith knocked the ball away from Stewart. John Voit recovered the ball for Army, giving the Black Knights the ball at the Rice 39. Three straight Kemper runs totaling nine yards brought the ball to the 30, at which time Army was prepared to attempt a fourth-down play. However, an offside penalty on Rice gave the Black Knights a first down at the 25. After a 2-yard Schurr run, John Trainor took a pitch from Schurr and ran it in for a 23-yard touchdown, drawing Army within three, 24-21.
Army then pulled off a beauty. Dan Grochowski not only struck an onside kick, but recovered the ball at the Army 46. But the Black Knights couldn’t go much farther, and a 24-yard Tardieu punt gave Rice the ball at its own 30 with 51 seconds left in the third. A Jackson incompletion and a run for no gain left the Owls with a third and 10, at which time Jackson completed an 11-yarder to Wright. That got Rice going, and it took it just six plays to move the ball to the Army 23. A six-yard completion to Turner and a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to Army defensive back Tevin Long put the ball at the Army 8. A 1-yard run by Dillard followed by a 7-yard touchdown completion to German gave Rice a 31-21 lead with just over 11 minutes remaining in the fourth.
Neither team did much on each of their subsequent possessions, but a 33-yard punt by Rice’s James Fairrimond gave Army the ball at its own 49. It took Army just three plays to pull within three points – a 19-yard run by Jordan Asberry, an 8-yard run from Schurr, and a 24-yard touchdown run by Kemper. Army got the ball back just three plays later when Jackson was sacked by Voit, causing a fumble. Army linebacker Alex Aukerman recovered; the Black Knights took over at the Rice 10.
Three runs totaling eight yards brought the ball to the 2, but Army didn’t want to risk a fourth-down play; Grochowski’s 19-yard field goal tied the game 31-31 with 2:13 remaining. Four big plays – two passes for 28 yards and two runs from Dillard for 32 yards – gave Rice the ball at the Army 12. Jackson then hit Wright for a 12-yard touchdown pass and a 38-31 lead with 24 seconds left.
White replaced Schurr on Army’s last possession, and two White rushes equaling 24 yards and a personal foul by Rice’s Tabar McGaskey left Army at the Rice 36 with one second remaining. White’s last pass was a floater knocked down at the 5, ending the game. It was Army’s second last-minute loss of the season. Wake Forest beat Army 17-14 with a last-second field goal Sept. 19.