Football win marks turning point
As a Florida boy, the afternoon thunderstorm was nothing new. One second I was trying to survive the 95-degree heat and the next I was heading for cover from the lightning. Normally, once the storm passes, life returns to the way it was before. However, life was very different after the thunderstorm in Boca Raton, Florida on Oct. 10, 2015.
Before the storm, Rice football was losing to Florida Atlantic University. Rice had a horrible third quarter in which it ran 10 plays for seven total yards. FAU scored a rushing touchdown after multiple missed tackles, which gave them a 12-point lead with just under 14 minutes remaining in the game. My Owls looked flat, defeated and ready to return to Texas. Then the storm came, teams returned to the locker room and fans to the concourse.
Then I waited. What team would I witness when the delay ended? A team that still believed it could reach its goal of winning a conference championship? A team that still wanted to go to a fourth consecutive bowl game? Or a team that was ready to pack their bags and start preparing for Army?
I do not know if lightning struck our locker room or what redshirt junior linebacker Alex Lyons supposedly said, but there was a new energy when the team returned to the sideline. The team stopped the two-point conversion to remain down by only 12, but a lot of work was still left to be done in a short amount of time.
Our offense drove down the field, but was unable to convert on fourth down to give the ball back to FAU. The offense was animated on the sideline. Senior quarterback Driphus Jackson was pacing up and down, wanting at least two more chances to lead his team to victory. And luckily, his defense helped get him the ball back after forcing a three-and-out.
Rice took over at their own nine-yard line with just eight minutes left still trailing by two scores. After a 60 yard completion to senior tight end Connor Cella put Rice at the FAU 21 yard line, I saw a play I had not seen yet in this game. Rice spread out the wide receivers and ran a designed quarterback draw. With great blocking downfield from the offensive line, and a few swift moves from Jackson, Rice was within one score.
The defense then came up with another huge stop. The big play came on third down when sophomore safety Destri White had a huge open field tackle to force a punt. Rice got the ball at our own 17 needing to score a touchdown in under five minutes to take the lead.
The defense was standing on the sideline cheering on the offense. Everyone in South Florida wearing blue and gray had hope that we were going to march down the field and score the game-winning touchdown. The final drive was a work of art. It started with an incredible 25-yard completion to senior running back Darik Dillard along the sideline coming out of the backfield on a wheel route. Rice then rushed six straight plays for 54 yards down to the FAU four-yard line. After a holding call, Rice dug deep into its bag of tricks by trying a jet sweep pass with backup quarterback Nate German, but it was unsuccessful. On the next play, Jackson found Dillard out of the backfield who walked into the end zone to give the Owls the one point lead.
The game was not over, as two minutes still remained on the clock. FAU got into Rice territory after a 29-yard pass on their first play of the drive, but our confidence in the stands and confidence on the field never wavered. Rice forced a fourth and five and Lyons, the man who gave the speech in the locker room during the storm, ended the game with sack to give Rice a much needed conference victory.
There are moments in a year that define or change a season. I strongly believe our season changed with one normal Florida thunderstorm. We went from a team trying to find an identity to a team that now has confidence and momentum leading into the second half of the season with all of its goals still in reach. And importantly, a team that has a new theme song: ACDC’s “Thunderstruck.”
Jeremy Reiskind is a Duncan College junior.
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