Nov. 30, 2013
Behind a dominating defensive effort and clutch performances from a long list of players, the Rice Owls captured their first Conference USA Western Division title and a berth in the conference championship game with a 17-13 win over Tulane at Rice Stadium on Saturday.
Rice (9-3/7-1) will advance to face Marshall (9-3/7-1) next Saturday at 11 a.m. with the host site to be determined by the BCS standings, which will be released on Sunday evening.
"We're looking forward now to playing Marshall," Bailiff said. "It doesn't matter if it's here or there or on the moon. We're excited to be headed to the Conference USA Championship game."
On Senior Day, the departing class of players were introduced as if they were playing their last game at home, then proceeded to spend the better part of the following three hours doing everything in their power to earn one more home date.
They held the Green Wave without a first down until late in the third quarter and to just 26 yards rushing on 21 carries without benefit of a sack. They held Tulane quarterback Nick Montana to 97 yards passing, completing just 14 of 31 throws and Tulane's leading receiver, Ryan Grant, to just a pair of catches for 45 yards. On offense, they fashioned 17 points in the first half and then came up with some clutch plays late to deny Tulane threatening field position when the game was in the balance.
"I'm so proud of how our defense played, to not give up a first down in the first half," Bailiff said. "They (Tulane) had 26 yards rushing on the game. The game ball goes to the defense. Coach Thurmond and his staff did a magnificent job. Not only was there a good game plan, we had some great effort tonight out of the defensive line and how our corners locked those receivers up. Phillip Gaines and Bryce Callahan played a big-time game and locked those receivers down."
For the first time all year, the Owls did not open the scoring. Taylor McHargue fumbled on Rice's third possession and the Green Wave set up shop at the Rice 18. Three plays netted just five yards and they settled for a 30-yard field goal by Cairo Santos to take a 3-0 lead.
The Owls used a turnover to grab the lead moments later.
Bryce Callahan forced a fumble by Rob Kelley and Cody Bauer recovered at the Tulane 19 and on the following play, McHargue hit Turner Petersen for a 19-yard touchdown pass. It was Petersen's fourth TD catch of the year, the most touchdown receptions by an Owl running back since Trevor Cobb had four in 1992.
On the Owls' next series, Jowan Davis dashed 16 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead to 14-3 and Chris Boswell added a 36-yard field goal just before halftime to send the Owls to the locker room up 17-3.
Rice held a staggering 232-10 yardage advantage in the first half in addition to a 15-0 advantage in first downs, but in the second half, the Green Wave began to find their footing.
After a Charles Ross' fumble set Tulane up at the Rice 27, Montana needed just three plays to find Devon Breaux in the end zone to cut the lead to 17-10. Early in the fourth, Tulane put together its most impressive drive of the night, marching accumulating almost half its final yardage total in a 61-yard march that ended in a second Santos' field goal.
But the Rice defense stiffened and in Tulane's final two possessions of the game, they lost four yards on seven plays. Its last possession began at the Green Wave three after James Farrimond's sixth punt pinned them deep.
Rice's offense was blanked in the second half, but McHargue converted several key throws down the stretch on third down to thwart Tulane's comeback hopes. He hit Donte Moore for 10 yards on a third and seven with eight minutes left and he found Dennis Parks for 18 yards on third and 11 with four minutes left. He finished with 180 yards passing and now has 2,065 yards this season to join Chase Clement as the only two Rice quarterbacks to throw for 2,000 yards twice in their careers . Rice won its 12th consecutive home game in November, while also winning its eighth straight home game overall. The Owls have also won their last six Senior Day games.
Most importantly, they have earned their first berth in the C-USA Championship game and with a bowl game already assured, will play in a record 14 games this year. They are one win shy of matching the school record for wins (10) set in 1949 and matched by Bailiff's 2008 team.
And they will be on the field next Saturday looking to capture their first outright conference football title since 1957.
"We're standing up here 9-3 and the West Division Champs," Rice head coach David Bailiff said. "And you know what's great? Those 23 seniors and 19 fifth-year guys, that's exactly what they said they wanted to do. They had a dream and they matched it with effort, and here we are making their dreams come true. And what a legacy this senior class is going to leave us and this university."