By MALCOLM BUTLER, Lincoln Parish Journal
RUSTON – New Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Cumbie didn’t hesitate.
After watching true freshman quarterback Landry Lyddy hit Tre Harris for an 18-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-down play in overtime, the Bulldog Boss went for the win.
However, Lyddy’s potential game-winning two-point attempt intended for Cyrus Allen sailed high and the Bulldogs dropped a heart-wrenching 42-41 decision to Rice before 18,300 fans at Joe Aillet Stadium Saturday evening.
“I think our defense was a little tired,” said Cumbie about the decision to go for the win. “They played a lot of plays in the first half and our depth, with injuries. We’ve had a lot of injuries this week. We’re not going to make an excuse for anything, but I felt like with a short week next week with us playing on Friday, prolonging the game (was not ideal). I thought our offense was doing a good job. I felt very confident in us being able to win one-on-one, but it didn’t come out the way we wanted it to.”
The fact Tech even had an opportunity in overtime was quite the story.
The Bulldogs saw five defensive starters miss the game, including both starting safeties in BeeJay Williamson and Jaiden Cole, and leading tackler in middle linebacker Tyler Grubbs. Defensive linemen DeShon Hall and Rasheed Lyles were also absent.
As if that wasn’t enough.
Starting quarterback Parker McNeil left the game in the first quarter after being tackled hard on a running play. Matthew Downing took over, that is until late in the fourth when he was helped off the field with an apparent knee injury.
Enter the rookie, Lyddy, last year’s “Mr. Louisiana Football” after a spectacular senior season and career at Shreveport’s Calvary Baptist Academy.
Trailing 35-27 with 41 seconds remaining the game, Lyddy took his first college snap and tossed a perfect a 19-yard TD to Allen who made an acrobatic catch along the front pylon of the end zone. Initially called incomplete, instant replay showed Allen had gotten his foot down.
Lyddy then hit Harris with a fade route two-point conversion on a play where Harris made a one-handed catch with a Rice defender hanging on the other arm.
Tie ball game. Overtime.
After the Owls scored on just three plays on their possession in the first overtime, the Bulldogs found themselves facing a fourth-and-three from the 18-yard line. Another perfect Lyddy fade route to Harris pulled Tech to within 42-41, setting up the decision to go for the win.
“Just proud of all our guys for competing,” said Cumbie. “Our guys are banged up and it’s just so unfortunate with Matt, with the phenomenal throw he had in the end zone to Cyrus and for the way that it happened. Just really proud of those three quarterbacks for battling. We talk about it about having your guys and being ready for opportunity and those guys did that. We’ve got to evaluate the film and see where we go from here with those guys.”
McNeil threw for 32 yards and one score before leaving in the first quarter with Tech leading 10-0. Downing threw for 159 yards and two scores before leaving in the final minute of the fourth quarter. Lyddy totaled 38 yards through the air and two scores.
But in the end, it was the Bulldogs’ inability to build a bigger lead early in the game that cost Tech.
“I was surprised we didn’t capitalize on offense better than what we did,” said Cumbie. “It should have been – that’s when you look at the game was decided, when we had the short field in the first quarter every time we had the ball and we came up with 10 points.”
A week after surrendering almost 700 yards of total offense, including 475 yards on the ground in a loss to North Texas, the undermanned Tech defense stood tall in the first half. Rice managed just 50 yards rushing and one score in the first half as Tech led 10-7 at the break.
“Our defense fought,” said Cumbie. “I knew Coach Power was going to have those guys ready to play and I knew those players were going to have their opportunities, were going to make the most of them. I think they just were out there for a lot of plays and they defended a lot of plays and they gave us a chance and unfortunately, we didn’t make a lot of opportunities in the first half.”
Both offenses came to life in the second half as the two teams combined to score 66 points after coming back out of the locker room.
Tre Harris caught eight passes for 92 yards and a career-high three touchdowns while Allen pulled in two receptions for 50 yards and a score. Nate Jones caught his first collegiate touchdown for the Bulldogs as well.
Marquis Crosby led Tech with 87 yards rushing on 14 carries.
Hugh Davis led Tech with 11 tackles and two pass break ups while Khiry Morrison added eight tackles and Maki Carabin seven tackles.
Tech travels to Miami to face FIU Friday at 7 p.m. CT.
“I think (the short week) is a good thing,” said Cumbie. “We’re always ready to play. We’ve got to get healed up, but we’ll go through a short week of practice and get our guys ready to get this taste out of their mouth because we’re not that far away. You lose one point to a good Rice team who’s got a lot of older guys, but we’ve got to find a way to win games.”