By Chuck Pool (cpool@Rice.edu) -
Tyler Stehling threw for 232 yards and added 92 on the ground, but the Rice Owls saw their hopes for a comeback win thwarted on a fourth down stop in double overtime and North Texas took a 42-35 decision at Rice Stadium on Saturday night in front of a crowd of 20,792.
After sprinting out to a 17-0 lead, UNT fought back to take a 28-20 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Rice had rallied from an eight point deficit in the final five minutes to send the game into extra time, but North Texas scored game's final 14 points to emerge with its first win at Rice Stadium as a member of Conference USA.
"It's really tough when you race out to a 17-0 lead and then sit there and watch it slip away and watch your team make errors on three drives with three turnovers," Rice head coach David Bailiff said. "We had too many turnovers and too many penalties and gave up some big plays to North Texas defensively. We made too many mistakes, and eight penalties."
Stehling and Zach Wright, who finished with a career-high 10 receptions for 120 yards, combined on a pair of completions for 22 yards to move the ball near midfield before Stehling bolted 41 yards up the middle to set the Owls up at the Mean Green two-yard line. Darik Dillard slammed into the end zone two plays later and then Stehling connected with Robby Wells on the two-point conversion to tie game.
After losing the coin toss, the Owls opened on offense in the first overtime and needed a fourth down conversion by Dillard at the UNT 16 to sustain their first possession. Three plays later, he gave Rice its last lead of the night on a three-yard run.
Dillard's two scores allowed him to move into seventh on the Rice career touchdown list with 24 while his 67 yards rushing allowed him to become the ninth Owl to rush for 2,000 yards in his career.
North Texas struck back with scores on the next two possession, the second aided by a crucial roughing penalty on the Owls on third down at the Rice nine. Moments later, the Owls were again faced with a fourth and one from the UNT 16 in overtime, but this time the Mean Green stopped Dillard for a loss to clinch the win.
Rice dominated the opening quarter, taking a 10-0 lead on a Haden Tobola connected on a 40-yard field goal and Stehling connected with Lance Wright on a 14-yard touchdown pass, the first score of Wright's career. Emmanuel Esukpa's one-yard run early in the second quarter extended the lead to 17-0, but UNT closed to 17-14 at the half.
"You've got to have the mentality when you get that kind of start that it becomes a frenzy of wanting more and more and not putting sunglasses on and enjoying your work," Bailiff said. "We had a bad mentality and that's something we've got to fix fast. We can't make the mistakes we're making and win football games. And that all starts right here with me"
Tobola's second field goal of the night extended the Rice lead to 20-14 before the Mean Green struck right back on a 75-yard run by Jeffrey Wilson to take their first lead of the night with 7:27 in the third.
Emmanuel Ellerbee led the Owls defense with 11 tackles, his second consecutive game in double figures and the Owls defense was credited five sacks and 12 tackles for loss, their best marks since the 2014 season.
Rice fell to 6-5 all-time in overtime games, including a 3-2 mark at Rice Stadium in extra frames. This was the first double overtime game in Rice Stadium history and the third in school history.
The Owls will return to the road next week when they take on Southern Miss in Hattiesburg. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m