Darik Dillard ran for a career-high 141 yards and Jordan Taylor topped 100 yards receiving for the fifth time in his career while a tenacious defense registered it highest sack total in a decade to spark a second half resurgence and lead Rice to a 28-14 win over Hawai'i at Rice Stadium on Saturday night.
"What a great game for us," Rice head coach David Bailiff said. "We knew going in that Hawaii was a great football team. They are well-coached. We knew that we were going to have our hands full. What they do defensively that it would be high-pressure and that it would be famine, famine... then we could have some feast. We didn't realize how long we were going to be in the famine period."
The Owls (2-3) won for the 10th time in their last 11 home games despite three turnovers and being stymied through most of the first half by a blitzing Rainbow Warriors defense.
Driphus Jackson shook off a slow first half to finish with 248 yards passing and pair of touchdowns, including a 31-yard toss to Taylor in the final moments to ice the victory. After being held to 146 yard in the first half, 81 of them on Jackson to James Mayden touchdown pass, Rice responded to gain 245 yards in the second, while holding Hawai'I to 129 yards and just six first downs.
The Owls defense sacked UH quarterback Ikaika Woolsey seven times on the night, their highest total since they sacked Kevin Kolb of Houston nine times in 2004 and one shy of their total from the first four games of the season. They finished the night with 12 tackles for loss, five shy of their total for the year heading into the game.
Hawai'i threatened to take an early lead after recovering a muffed punt at the Rice 34. But in what would become a pattern for the game, the Owls defense rallied with three tackles for loss to force a field goal attempt. Hawaii faked the attempt but Brian Nordstrom dropped TJ Taimatuia for no gain to end the threat.
The Warriors took a 7-0 lead on their next possession and ended the first quarter with the ball and the lead after forcing the Owls third punt of the opening frame.
That possession ended early in the second when true freshman V. J. Banks stepped in front of Ikaika Woolsey's pass to record his first career interception, but the Owls continued to struggle on offense and were forced again to punt.
Two series later, Hawaii again was threatening after a Jackson interception placed the ball at the Rice 31. But Bryce Callahan came free to cause Woolsey to intentionally ground the ball for a 12-yard loss and Nordstrom added a second sack on the series to force the Rainbow Warriors to try a 38-yard field goal by Tyler Hadden, which was wide left.
The Owls responded with their lone offensive highlight of the first half as Jackson found true freshman James Mayden open in the left flat and then watched him blaze past the Hawaii defense for an 81-yard score. It matched the fourth-longest scoring pass in school history and the second scoring toss of better than 80 yards in Jackson's career. He teamed with Sam McGuiffie to set the school record with an 88-yard connection vs. Houston in 2012.
After the Owls came out of the locker room in the second half, they forced a punt on Hawai'i's first possession of the second half, but then gave UH the ball right back with a fumble on their first play from scrimmage. Six plays later, the Owls were trailing 14-7
The Owls mounted their comeback late in the third. Dillard carried for 27 yards and Taylor caught a 28 yard pass to set them up at the Hawai'i 10. Dillard crashed home two plays later to tie the game, 14-14.
After a series of punts, the Owls regained possession with 8:09 left and fashioned the drive that allowed them to take the lead for good. After three carries by Dillard gained 15 yards, Jackson rebounded from a sack to hit Taylor for 14 and Mario Hull for 50 to move the ball to the UH four where Dillard skirted the left end to put Rice up 21-14.
Trailing for the first time, Hawai'i took over at its 34 with 4:18 left and quickly moved into Rice territory before the Owls stiffened and forced an incompletion on fourth down at the Rice 43.
The Owls then road the running of Dillard to thwart Hawai'i's hopes of getting the ball back one more time. He carried five times for 38 yards to move the ball to the Rainbows' 19. A bad snap on third down moved the ball back to the 31, but rather than attempt a field goal or punt, the Owls chose to go for it with 12 seconds remaining and Jackson found Taylor crossing over the middle for his first TD of the year and his 14th career TD catch.
The Owls will be back on the road next week when they travel to Army, with kickoff set for 11 a.m. (central).