Rice quarterback Joel Armstrong threw for career-high 305 yards and a pair of touchdowns and Jarett Dillard set an NCAA mark for consecutive games with a touchdown, but Troy's Omar Haugabook proved to be even more productive as he led the Trojans to a 41-17 win in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
It was a game of notable returns both for the Owls, who had not been bowling since 1961, and for the New Orleans Bowl, which had been forced to relocate in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
For the Owls, the game capped a magical run through the 2006 season, one in which they found themselves at 1-5 at the midpoint before ripping off six consecutive victories to earn their first bowl bid since 1961. Over 12,000 Owl fans descended on the Crescent City to celebrate the achievement, and even though the final result was not what they had hoped, the overall effect of the season was not diminished.
Haugabook, the unanimous MVP of the game, completed 14 of 28 for 217 yards. He also picked up 92 of Troy's 148 rushing yards. He led the Trojans to a quick 14-0 lead before Armstrong and the Owls found their offensive footing.
He completed seven consecutive passes to march Rice 76 yards, the last 11 coming when he found Mike Falco just inside the sideline marker for a touchdown to cut the margin to 14-7.
The Owls then held Troy without a first down and appeared to be driving to a tying score, but a holding call on third down wiped out a first down near midfield and Rice was forced to punt back to Troy. Haugabook then needed just three plays to cover 67 yards and push the lead back to 21-7.
The Owls were repeatedly frustrated by ill-timed holding calls, in addition to Haugabook, who extended the Troy led to 34-10 by the mid-point of the four quarter. At that point, the only suspense for Rice fans was if Dillard's streak of 12 games during the season with a score would come to an end.
Late in the second quarter, the streak appeared to have been extended when Armstrong connected with him from 52 yards out, but a holding call wiped out the play. As the game wore on, Dillard began to experience leg cramps, and he was not on the field as the Owls drove deep into Troy territory with less than six minutes to go.
But on fourth and goal from the Troy one-yard line, Dillard came back on the field and Armstrong hit him in the corner of the end zone for the score. It was his 15th consecutive game with a TD catch, dating to last season. His 13-game touchdown streak in 2006 set an NCAA record, breaking the mark of 12 set by Randy Moss in 1997 and matched by Larry Fitzgerald in 2003.
Armstrong finished the night with a school record 35 completions (in 54 attempts). He tied a school mark by throwing five interceptions to go along with his two TD passes.