Bradley Rozner took a winding route to get to where he is right now, once again delivering game-winning moments for Rice football.
There was 3:20 left in regulation and Rice football was facing third and long from their own 14-yard line with a six-point lead. The North Texas Mean Green led by quarterback Mason Fine had gotten hot on offense, marching through the Rice defense with relative ease over the last two quarters. That left head coach Mike Bloomgren had a decision to make.
Bloomgren could easily have opted to play it safe and run the ball. That would have taken more time off the clock and forced North Texas to go the length of the field, again. Or, he could roll the dice. On that particular Saturday afternoon, with the game hanging in the balance, Bloomgren put his trust in the arms of Bradley Rozner.
A former JUCO wide receiver, Rozner was coming off an eight-catch, 130-yard, three-touchdown game against Middle Tennessee the week prior that propelled the Owls to their first win of the 2019 season. He had just 35 yards on four catches against North Texas on Saturday, a quiet outing by his standards. But Bloomgren believed in No. 2.
Quarterback Tom Stewart dropped back to pass and surprised everyone with a deep bomb to Rozner, who exploded past the defense and hauled in the 35-yard shot. The Owls would run out the clock on the ground shortly after, winning the game.
If there had ever been any doubt, Rozner had arrived. Then things took a turn. Rozner would play the season finale next week against UTSA, then, over the span of the next 1,000 days, Rozner would play in just one quarter. After missing the 2020 season with injuries, Rozner would play the first quarter of the Owls’ 2021 season opener against Arkansas before being shut down again,
By no fault of his own, the focal point of the Rice football offense had disappeared.
“The middle chapters of this thing weren’t real cool,” Bloomgren said when looking back at Rozner’s career at South Main thus far. “They were real rocky with a kid that had to go through a lot of challenges to get back to this point.”
What point is that? Another game-winning moment from Rozner that brought back memories of that game-sealing grab against North Texas almost three years ago.
This time Rice had the ball in a tie game against UTEP at the 23-yard line, 30 seconds remaining and no timeouts. The Owls had plenty of time to hand the ball off again, spike it and attempt at 40 or so yard field goal to win the game. But Bloomgren hadn’t forgotten the playmaker he had lined up on the far side of the field.
Instead of taking the conservative route, Bloomgren dialed up another deep shot. Quarterback TJ McMahon took the snap, dropped back and delivered a dart to the pylon, finding Rozner with his hands fully extended for the game-sealing score. Number two had done it again, this time with a career-best 140 receiving yards in the process.
McMahon –> Rozner.
A thing of beauty.pic.twitter.com/Pw9x9mYies
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) November 4, 2022
When asked about the gutsy call after the game, Bloomgren beamed. It’s kind of like [we] dare people to cover him one on one. That’s a heck of a weapon to have your X-receiver.”
Rozner’s explanation made the herculean grab sound remarkably commonplace. “I saw the safety kind of creeping over my way but he wasn’t far enough over,” he recounted. “I just gave the corner and inside move and TJ [McMahon] put the ball up there and I just made the play.”
Just making plays has become the norm for Rozner once again. Since returning to the field this season, Rozner has topped 100 receiving yards five times in nine games, the most of any player in Conference USA. His nine career 100-yard games are the most since Jarrett Dillard (12) and James Casey (10), who played their final season at Rice in 2018.
Dillard and Casey are among the all-time greats to catch passes at South Main. Rozner is starting to force his way into that conversation.
For Rozner, though, he’s just trying to win football games and his coach continues to put him in positions to do just that. “It’s huge,” Rozner said of the trust Bloomren continues to display in him. “When you’re able to go to your coach and you know you can tell him, ‘Hey, I got this.’ And they give it to you and it all works out.”
Things just keep working out for Rozner, who once again is back at the center of the Owls’ offensive success. Almost as if he never left.
“If they forgot about him, shame on them,” Bloomgren said. “He’s reminding them right now.”
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