BOCA RATON -- Driphus Jackson connected with Darik Dillard on a 14-yard touchdown with 2:07 left to cap a furious comeback after a lengthy weather delay and hand the Rice Owls a 27-26 win over Florida Atlantic at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida.
Rice scored twice in the final 7:21 while outgaining FAU 227 yard to 57 in the final quarter to fashion its first double-digit comeback in the fourth quarter since 2009. The win evened Rice's record to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in Conference USA heading into an off week. FAU fell to 1-4 overall and 1-1 in the conference.
"I just don't know if I've ever had a sweeter win at Rice. It was just an incredible experience to see the guys' faces in that locker room and to know how hard we worked at the end to make that happen." Rice head coach David Bailiff said.
Jackson gained 164 of his 311 yards of total offense over the game's final 13 minutes, passing for 129 and rushing for another 35 while allowing the Rice Owls to overcome a 12-point deficit, their largest fourth-quarter comeback since 2009. He threw for three scores on the day to move past Tommy Kramer and Randy Hertel into third on the Rice career list with 39 touchdown passes. Dillard topped 100 yards rushing for the first time this year and added a career-high 44 yards receiving. The touchdown reception was his first this year and is 20th career touchdown (17 rushing, 3 receiving).
After taking an 14-7 lead in the first quarter, Rice found itself in danger of dropping a third straight game and the fourth in the last five after FAU took scored early in the fourth quarter on a nine-yard run by Trey Rodriguez as a heavy rain shower hit stadium. The teams were sent to their locker rooms before FAU could extend its 26-14 lead with the extra point to wait out what became a 90 minute delay. Rice had piled up 252 yards and ran 46 plays in the first half, but after being held to just eight yards on 10 plays in the third quarter as FAU surged to its lead, head coach David Bailiff said his team used the delay to great advantage.
"Let me give the credit to these leaders of this football team," Bailiff said. "They took that baton, and it just got to where we were extremely focused. They were absolutely like caged animals wanting to get out. That was to our advantage the way we hit that fourth quarter and we had so much time left in the fourth quarter. "
Play resumed with a Florida Atlantic failed two-point conversion, keeping the deficit at 12 points. Jackson marched the Owls 43 yards to the FAU 32, but the drive stalled and Rice turned the ball over on downs with only 9:44 on the clock.
Rice's defense, which had been pierced by FAU's Jaquez Johnson for 334 yards in the first three quarters, forced their only three-and-out of the game to put the ball back in Jackson's hands.
Starting from his own nine, Jackson missed on his first two throws but FAU was called for holding on a third down incompletion to give Rice new life at its 19. Jackson took advantage of the second chance, finding Connor Cella along the Rice sideline and the junior from Katy broke free for a career-long 60-yard gain to the FAU 21. After an incompletion on first down, Jackson saw an opening and burst up the middle to score and cut the lead to 26-21.
"I saw it land, and I took it," Jackson said. "It was nothing more than that. It wasn't just me. I'm never going to take credit for something like that. The whole offensive line did a good job setting up the lane, and I scored. I wasn't going to slide or anything like I had been doing in the first half. I wanted to make sure I got in the end zone."
The drive covered 91 yards in just 41 seconds, leaving Rice 7:21 to complete the comeback and the defense obliged by blunting FAU's next effort at the FAU 38.
Jackson took over at the Rice 17 with 4:51 to go and promptly hit Dillard for a gain of 25 on a spectacular catch in front of the FAU bench. Three carries by Dillard accounted for 28 more yards to take the ball to the FAU 30.
Four plays later Jowan Davis appeared to score from four yards out, but Rice was flagged for holding to push the ball back to the 14. But not even a 10 yard setback could stall the Rice momentum as Jackson found Dillard for the score to put Rice back in front with 2:07 left.
Rice failed on a two-point try of its own and after a Jack Fox touchback, FAU began one final dive at its 25. Johnson connected on a 29-yard pass play on first down to move to the Rice 41 but a third down pass was broken up by true freshman Justin Bickham and Johnson was sacked by Alex Lyons and Preston Gordon on fourth down to seal the victory.
Lyons led the defense with nine tackles, Gordon was credited with 1.5 sacks, the first of his career, while Bickham was credited with breaking up three passes.
The last time the Owls had overcome a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter was in 2009 when they came back from 12 points down to UTEP in the final 12:04 to win 30-29. The win also represented the Owls' second straight C-USA road win and their ninth in the last 12 conference games away from Rice Stadium, where the Owls will return to action in two weeks when they host Army West Point. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. on October 24, which coverage provided by Fox Sports.