Louisiana Tech found itself in familiar territory Saturday afternoon at Rice Stadium.
However, this time they wrote a different ending to the script.
With the game tied at 28-28 and less than two minutes to play, sophomore quarterback J’Mar Smith led the Bulldogs on an 11-play, 75 yard drive that was capped by a two-yard TD run by Boston Scott for the eventual game winner.
Smith completed some key passes during the drive but his biggest play came by way of his legs as his nine-yard scramble on third down and eight on the Tech 27-yard line kept the drive alive.
Scott capped an impressive day – 87 yards rushing and three touchdowns – with a 2-yard touchdown run with exactly one minute to play to give Tech a 35-28 lead. Scott picked up 37 yards on the ground on the final drive, including a 21-yard rush off tackle that put the Bulldogs on the Owls 2-yard line.
Despite a solid first two quarters, the Tech defense struggled the entire second half … until the final 60 seconds. After allowing Rice to score on its first three possessions of the second half, including the game-tying 51-yard TD pass on a fourth down and 13-play with 4:33 remaining, the Bulldogs defense closed the door with a pair of interceptions following Scott’s go-ahead TD.
Trey Spencer put the nail in the proverbial coffin with a 36-yard interception return for a TD of a Sam Glaesmann pass with 36 second to play, giving the Bulldogs a 42-28 lead. Darryl Lewis then put the coffin in the ground with his first interception of the season in the Tech end zone with nine seconds remaining.
As has been the case all season for the Bulldogs, the win didn’t come easy. And for the fifth time in its last six games, the game wasn’t decided until the final minute. But this one belonged to the Bulldogs.
Following a pair of tough, emotional losses on the road against UAB and at home against Southern Miss in its last two games, the Bulldogs dug deep to thwart the Rice upset bid. The Owls entered the game as big underdogs sporting a 1-6 record and early on it didn’t look promising as Tech built a 21-7 halftime advantage.
Scott scored on a 5-yard run in the first quarter and a six-yard run in the second quarter and then Kam McKnight made a diving grab on a 5-yard TD score from Smith late in the half. Rice’s only first half touchdown came on Gaesmann’s 1-yard run midway through the second quarter.
However, Rice came out of halftime and went to work on the ground. The Owls drove 67 yards on 11 plays – all rushing attempts – to score with 8:43 to play in the third quarter, cutting the Tech advantage to 21-14. The Bulldogs countered as Jarred Craft capped a 12-play, 75-yard drive with a 4-yard run to push the lead back to 28-14 with 2:03 to play in the third.
After a Will Phillips 8-yard run early in the fourth quarter pulled the Owls to within 28-21, the Rice defense forced a punt by Tech. The Owls had a chance to tie starting on its own 17.
Rice drove to midfield before the Tech defense stood tall, forcing a fourth down and 13 with just over four minutes to play. The Owls went for it and struck gold as Gaesmann hit Aaron Cephus on a deep crossing pattern and Cephus went untouched 51-yards for the tying TD. Rice rushed the ball 27 times for 168 yards in the second half.
The momentum was clearly on the Owl’s side.
And despite a subpar performance a week ago, Smith did what he has done time after time this season – he gave the Bulldogs a chance to win.
Smith completed 21-of-32 passes for 237 yards and one score, including a career-high 11 for 118 yards to his main man Teddy Veal. Smith also rushed eight times for 27 yards, including the crucial 9-yard scamper on third down early in the game-winning drive.
In addition to Scott’s big day on the ground, Craft added 67 yards and one score on 13 carries as Tech rushed for 180 yards on the day. It was Craft’s first rushing TD since the season opener against Northwestern State.
Defensively, the Bulldogs recorded a season-high four turnovers, including three interceptions (L’Jarius Sneed recorded his first career interception late in the second quarter). Scedrick Cooper led Tech with eight tackles while Amik Robertson added six tackles, including one sack.
Tech returns to action Saturday when it hosts North Texas at 2:30 p.m. for homecoming at Joe Aillet Stadium.