By Chuck Pool (cpool@Rice.edu) -
Tyler Stehling threw for five touchdowns and caught a sixth while becoming the fourth quarterback in school history to throw for more than 400 yards in a game to lead Rice to a 65-44 Homecoming win over Prairie View A&M on Saturday.
Rice (1-6) won for the first time in 2016 while winning its Homecoming game for the 11th time in the last 12 years to improve its all-time mark in Homecomings to 47-47-3.
"First, it's always nice to win homecoming," Rice head coach David Bailiff said. "For us, it was a win we obviously needed -- we needed it bad. I am so proud of the offense, and proud of the way Tyler Stehling directed that offense tonight. I thought that he was completely confident in everything that he did."
Stehling hit on 22 of 31 passes for 407 yards and added a touchdown reception of 27 yards to lead an Owl offense that piled up 634 yards, the most in a game since they totaled 647 in an overtime loss to Marshall in 2012. Temi Alaka exploded for a career-high 143 yards on six catches while Samuel Stewart piled up 116 yards on the ground to pace the offensive explosion that generated the most points ever in a Homecoming game and the most since Rice beat North Texas 77-20 in 2008.
He joined Tommy Kramer, Chase Clement and Nick Fanuzzi as the only Rice quarterbacks to top 400 yards passing in a game and his 407 yards were the fourth-best in school history. Fanuzzi's 405 yard effort vs. UTEP in 2011 also came in a Homecoming win.
"That's (the 400 yard game) great for me and all, but I was just glad to get a win for the team and the guys," Stehling said. "Our o-line played well today. It's a good feeling to get a win. We got to sing our little song we do when we win, but we haven't been able to do it all year. To be honest, losing takes a lot out of you, because you put in all the work and all the effort. But to finally win, it feels good to relish it."
"We've been talking about consistency obviously this past week and over the past couple of weeks, and this game I felt like we got better at that, but we're not where we want to be, especially in the second half," Alaka said. "It's definitely the best we've looked so far, but we need to improve on it."
The Owls came blazing in the first half, scoring on seven of eight possessions and scored 31 points in the second quarter to take a 45-14 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Stehling opened the scoring by hitting Austin Walter out of the backfield for a 12-yard score. After Prairie View returned the ensuing kickoff of a touchdown, Stewart put the Owls ahead to stay on a 31-yard run. One play after a D'Angelo Ellis interception, the Owls dipped into their bag of tricks as James Mayden took a pitch on a reverse and tossed touchdown pass to the wide open Stehling.
"We worked on that play I think the past three weeks in practice and just repping it, and we had a chance to run it and James (Mayden) made a good throw," Stehling said. "Nobody was around me. It was one of those ones that it was in the air so long, it's do I catch it with my hands or my body. It was 'just don't drop it.'"
Stehling returned to his more familiar, hitting Alaka from 46 yards and true freshman Kylen Granson from 50 yards out and then redshirt freshman J.T. Granato ran in from four yards out on his first career series to extend the lead to 42-7. A Haden Tobola field goal just before halftime sent the Owls to the locker room with a 45-14 cushion.
The second half was more of a back and forth affair and the two teams traded scores on their way to scoring the most points ever in a Homecoming game (109).
"I thought we played really well in the first half," Bailiff said. "I wasn't really thrilled with the second half. We gave up too many big plays, I think. We had a tendency to get distracted. A lot of that is simple: the devil isn't in the detail, wins are in the detail, and it's simply if you're in a play action and your eyes go to the backfield instead of your receiver -- it's little things that continue to haunt us. We need to continue to push that and work on those little things."
Stehling's five touchdown passes were the most of his career and the most by a Rice quarterback since Chase Clement tossed five in the Owls 2008 Bayou Bucket win over Houston. The six total touchdown passes matched the school record, the sixth time in school history they have reached that mark--but the first time that Clement had not been at the controls.
Rice returns to Conference USA play next week with a road date at Louisiana Tech, with kickoff set for 6 p.m. and broadcast coverage by Campus Insiders. They will be back home in two weeks when they host Florida Atlantic on November 5 at 2:30.