Rice football edged out Prairie View A&M on a last-second field goal. The come-from-behind victory exemplifies the culture Mike Bloomgren has built so far.
When Mike Bloomgren looked up at the scoreboard midway through the third quarter of the Owls’ season opener against Prairie View he was greeted with an inauspicious sight. Rice was trailing the SWAC squad 28-19 and the clock was starting to run out. Bloomgren didn’t panic, instead, he pushed his team to focus and get back to the fundamentals of the Owls’ new offensive identity “Pound the rock, control the clock and play great defense.”
A fourth quarter deficit turned into the perfect test for the Owls’ identity, a test they passed with flying colors. “I’m really glad our culture showed through tonight and our guys fought forever. We found a way to win this game,” said Bloomgren in the post-game conference. “I believe in what we’re doing,” he added, “I believe in these guys and I knew they were going to keep fighting.”
And fight they did.
Rice turned things around quickly, outscoring Prairie View 12-0 in the final quarter and outgaining the Panthers 110 yards to minus four yards in that frame. That comeback hinged on one all-important fourth down conversion.
The stage was set. Fourth-and-1, the game hanging in the balance. Mike Bloomgren is on the headset, assessing the situation with offensive coordinator Jerry Mack. It’s a short conversation that ends like this: “I think we go for it. It’s who we are.”
“Who we are” and the theme of identity was the theme of the night. Almost to the man, every player that spoke with the media after the game made a comment to that effect. “Adversity struck,” admitted quarterback Shawn Stankavage, “we showed the culture we’ve built here.” That was echoed by running back Emmanuel Esupka, “When adversity hits, we can’t just panic,” he echoed, “we just got to keep doing what we do.”
Esupka took the ball through the heart of the defense and picked up two hard-fought yards and the first down. That’s what they drew up, and it’s become part of a positive mindset that has permeated the Rice locker room. “We just knew we were going to get it done,” Esupka admitted matter-of-factly. This time, they did. Fellow running back Austin Walters shared that sentiment. “At the end of the day, football is football.”
Rice still has a lot of football to be played. One win over Prairie View won’t alter the course of their season drastically, but the way they went about it helped solidify the kind of culture that Mike Bloomgren has been championing all offseason long. It’s that positivity and confidence that kept the Owls in this game at all. “I believe in what we’re doing,” said Bloomgren, “I believe in these guys and I know they were going to keep fighting.”
They fought until the final second, when kicker Jack Fox booted what had become a walk-off field goal to beat Prairie View A&M. The field goal capped off a night that had its fair share of bruises. but was also littered with “fun”, “confidence”, “trust” words that ultimately play a significant role in determining the culture of any institution.
Stankavage hit the on the head when asked about his fourth quarter comeback. “This is something you dream of as a kid, a fourth quarter comeback,” he recounted, “The offense gathered around me and I gathered around them and we went out there and made plays. We were all confident in each other.”
That confidence will be tested next weekend against Houston, but for now, it’s being woven into the DNA of the Rice Football program bit by bit. “That’s just how we do it,” Esupka closed. There’s a new era underway in Rice football, starting with the culture and bleeding onto the field.