Ricky Segers nailed a 25-yard field goal as time expired to thwart a stellar second half comeback by Rice and give Old Dominion a memorable debut as a member of Conference USA with a 45-42 win at Rice Stadium on Saturday.
The win not only was the first ever by the Monarchs (3-1/1-0) in C-USA, it snapped the Owls' (0-3/0-1) nine-game home winning streak, which was tied for the ninth longest active streaks in the nation.
"It was a tough ball game," Rice head coach David Bailiff said. "Coach (Bobby) Wilder had his team ready to play. They played an exceptional first half of football. They made plays offensively and defensively. I think the second half we came out well."
After ODU took a 35-14 lead early in the third, Owls quarterback Driphus Jackson led a spirited comeback by the Owls despite playing with a separated left shoulder.
He threw for 142 yards over the final two quarters and led the Owls to four touchdowns, the last of them tying the game with just 1:05 left on the clock. But ODU senior QB Taylor Heinicke, who had participated on an MTV 2 reality show "The Ride" with Jackson when the two were in high school and finished with 430 yards passing and five touchdowns, led the Monarchs back down the field to set up Segers' winning kick.
The winning drive opened with a horse collar penalty against the Owls and was sparked by a 45-yard completion from Heinicke to Zach Pascal to the Rice 14. Prior to that completion, the Owls had held Heinicke to only 77 yards through the air in the second half after he took advantage of an Owls defense which was missing four starters from the previous two weeks and would lose three more starters during the game for 308 yards and three scores in the first half.
Jackson was injured while throwing a 31-yard touchdown pass to Zach Wright on the Owls' first possession. Tyler Stehling replaced Jackson and engineered one scoring drive, but trailing 28-14 at the half, Bailiff was given the unexpected news that Jackson was cleared to return to action.
"I was stunned when the doctors said he was clear to go (back in the game in the second half)," Bailiff said. "It was his left shoulder - and not his right one - so he could still throw a football, and they cleared him to come back. I thought it was one of the gutsiest performances that I've ever seen in a young man. That's really three great games in a row he's played."
"I wanted to get back in as soon as I could, but they (team trainers) wanted me to wait until the second half so that it could be evaluated (at halftime) and make sure it was something that I could play with." Jackson said. "They braced me up for the second half, and we were able to get some stuff going."
Jackson engineered scoring marches of 75, 65, 75 and 80 yards on the Owls last four possessions in the second half, mixing his throwing with the powerful running of backs Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard who both ran for career highs.
Davis plowed through the tiring Monarchs for 150 yards on 24 carries while Dillard added 70 on 14 carries and scored three touchdowns, including the tying score with less than a minute remaining.
"I was proud of Jowan and Darik," Bailiff noted. "Jowan there's a lot of times when you think he's down, and he just keeps those legs driving, and he comes out of it."
Wright finished with six catches for 80 yards, both career bests. Dennis Parks matched Wright with six catches, also a career high.
The loss also snapped the longest winning streak in Rice Stadium history for the Owls in addition to a six-game home streak inside C-USA. They will look to even their mark next week in Hattiesburg, Mississippi when they face Southern Miss.
"The one thing that we have to realize is last year we were hungry, and we were doing the hunting. This year we're the hunted, and we're going to get teams' best effort," Bailiff said. "I think we saw that today. Old Dominion came in here today playing against the defending Conference USA champions, and we're going to get that at Southern Miss next week on the road."
"You have to move forward from these games," senior co-captain Gabe Baker said. "These are tough ones to lose - any loss is tough heading into conference play. We're still confident, and we have a long season in front of us. We're going to learn from our mistakes."