Nov. 3, 2012
Phillip Gaines has re-written the Rice record book for pass breakups, but it will be the one that does not count that will be best remembered as the most crucial one of his junior season as he foiled Tulane's two-point conversion attempt with 56 seconds left to give Rice a 49-47 win on Saturday.
The win broke a 14-game road losing streak for the Owls in conference play and was their third in the last four games, giving them a surge of momentum heading into their bye week.
Gaines came into Saturday tied for the national lead in breakups and added a 17th earlier in the game to set a school record, but his game-saver does not count in the statistics because two-point conversions are untimed downs. However, it had a major impact on this team's drive to remain in contention for a postseason bowl. Senior Taylor Cook then slammed the door on Tulane's hopes for a Homecoming win by recovering the Green Wave's onside kick attempt.
There was special satisfaction that Cook ended the game with the ball in his hands. In Rice's last game in New Orleans as a quarterback in relief of starter Nick Fanuzzi, Cook had seen his own rally fall short on the final play, ending the Owls' hopes for bowl eligibility.
Cook also led the team with three catches for 53 yards.
The foiled two-point attempt dimmed an amazing second half for Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin, who threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns in the second half.
Rice QB Taylor McHargue, who threw for 259 yards and ran for another 60, led a pair of fourth quarter scoring drives after Tulane took its only lead of the day to put Rice up 49-41 to force Tulane to go for two at the end of the game.
Few watching the game's first 30 minutes could have seen the wild ending that was waiting some two hours later.
Rice scored three times off turnovers in the first half and headed to the locker room with a 28-10 lead.
The Owls opened sharply, taking the opening kickoff and marching 75 yards in seven plays with McHargue capping the drive with a nine-yard run. McHargue was back in the end zone less than two minutes later, scoring from 11 yards out after the Owls were set up deep in Green Wave territory thanks to a fumble on the kickoff following his first touchdown.
Rice stumbled over the next few series, thanks to a flurry of penalties. Tulane took advantage of favorable field position and a roughing the passer penalty to cut the lead to 14-7 on a 35-yard pass from Griffin to Wilson Van Hooser.
The Owls turned a fumbled punt into points early in the second quarter, as Turner Petersen ran it in from six yards out to make it 21-7.
Baker grabbed a deflected bass and sprinted untouched for a 55-yard touchdown, the Owls second pick six in as many weeks. Baker's score on his first career interception gave the Owls 28 first-half points, their largest production of the year and their most since they scored 34 against East Carolina in the first half on November 20, 2010.
Tulane turned the tables on the Owls in the third quarter when Ryan Travis plucked a deflection off the hands of Jordan Taylor and returned it 73 yards for a score, setting off a wild third quarter that saw Tulane outscore the owls 28-7 to take a 38-35 lead.
But true freshman Luke Turner, stepping into a depleted running back rotation, scored the first of his two fourth quarter touchdowns early in the fourth quarter to put Rice back up 42-38. Griffin moved Tulane back, down the field, but Hosam Shahin broke through to sack Griffin to stall the drive and force a field goal. The sack was Shahin's fifth of the year, matching the most by a Rice interior lineman since 1997 when noseguard Judd Smith also had five.
McHargue then engineered a nine-play, 75 yard march that ate up nearly six minutes, ending with Turner's second short touchdown of the quarter and Chris Boswell's seventh PAT of the day provided the crucial point to force Tulane to go for two after its final score.
While Griffing threw for 476 yards, Rice's defense held the Green Wave with no yards rushing on the day, setting a school record in the process. The previous low for rushing yards allowed was three by Houston in 1991.
The Owls (4-6/2-4) enter their bye week with a two-game winning streak and having won three of their last four. They will wrap up the home portion of the 2012 campaign when they host SMU in two weeks as they honor their seven seniors. Kickoff is set for 2:30 at Rice Stadium.