But on the first play, Mike Phillips was hit at the line of scrimmage and lost the ball. Phillips scrambled backward and recovered his own fumble, but he was in the end zone and Houston had two points on the safety. It was now Houston 16 Rice 7.
Rice rallied in the fourth quarter to make it 16-14, but Houston came back, Mullins scoring on a quarterback sneak. After the kick it was 23-14. Three minutes remained on the clock, and Houston drew a 15-yard penalty on the kick-off for unsportsmanlike conduct. Houston was winning, but not winning the way it had wanted to, and a lot of the red-shirted players were angry.
Houston now gave ground very grudgingly. Too many times it came up third down and long. Somehow Rice managed each time to get a new first down, but the clock was ticking away. Then came a sudden Rice touchdown on a long pass from Gadd to Eddie Collins. The Houston Special, but too late. Only seconds remained on the clock. Rice was beaten, 23-21.
The crowd behaved very curiously. While the tired players were trooping off the field, the people simply sat. They should have been getting up and rushing for the exits, but they continued sitting for a long time. They were either wanting more football or too overwhelmed by the unexpected things they had seen to be willing to quit the place where it all had occurred.
The Houston players and the Rice players went up the ramp together. A few handshakes were exchanged and a few "Nice game" murmurs, but not many. Mostly the players just seemed tired. Rice had been defeated, but it had won something. Houston had won, but somehow seemed defeated.
The players were very slow in getting undressed and showering. There were apples and sandwiches and ice-cream bars piled up on a big table, but no one seemed to want anything.
Outside the gates at the top of the ramp a crowd of people had gathered waiting for the players. They were friends and family and the curious, but they were going to have a long wait. Bart Goforth had taken off his shoulder pads, but he had not undressed any further than that. Periodically he would pick up the pads and smash them down on the floor. Joe Buck, who had not played much, was helping Stahle Vincent undress. Buck was doing most of it, because Stahle was so exhausted he could do nothing but stare straight ahead. "Raise your arm," Buck said, as he tried to work the shoulder pad over Vincent's head. "C'mon, Stahle, raise your arm. Man, help me a little. Just a little." It was like trying to undress a drunk.
Peterson was a long time letting the press in. Finally he went into the little office where the other coaches were assembled and nodded to the student manager at the door. He did not really feel like talking, but talking was part of his job. He would do it, though all he really felt like was sitting down and not thinking for a long, long time. It had been incredible, he was thinking, how close they had come, 23-21, when they were not supposed to have come close at all. It seemed, he thought, that coming that close they should have won. It seemed like it ought to have been that way. He knew he was going to have a hard time getting this game off his mind. And the season had hardly begun.
Rice was to finish its year 3-7-1. Chris Hale rejoined the team and was soon starting again in the defensive secondary. At season's end, Bill Peterson resigned to become head coach of the Houston Oilers, taking Parry Peccatiello with him. Rice named Al Conover to replace Peterson, whereupon Tobin Rote quit. Rodrigo Barnes is now with the Dallas Cowboys, where he has proved to be a promising linebacker.