The Rice Owls scored 26 unanswered points in the second half of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl to beat the Air Force Falcons 33-14 Dec. 29 at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Owls closed out the year with their fifth consecutive win and their sixth win in the last seven games, completing a remarkable reversal to a season that saw the team start 1-5.
Despite turning the ball over three times and being down 14-7 at halftime, both the Rice offense and defense stepped up their play, shut down the Air Force offense and took control offensively in the second half.
“I’m just so proud of these young men and our coaching staff,” said Rice head football coach David Bailiff. “We came out at the second half and made a couple adjustments and more importantly some attitude adjustments, not so much from coaching but from the team leaders. We came out more determined to play the second half stronger.”
Rice lost starting junior quarterback Taylor McHargue to a concussion on a rushing play midway through the second quarter. Before leaving the game, McHargue connected with sophomore wide receiver Jordan Taylor for a touchdown (Taylor’s first of the year) and the game’s first score.
Freshman quarterback Driphus Jackson led the Owls the rest of the way.
Jackson connected with Taylor in the end zone two more times and left him with an outstanding nine catches for 153 yards and three touchdowns. Taylor’s efforts earned him the Armed Forces Bowl Rice MVP.
Jackson ended the day with the two touchdowns and 15 of 21 on pass attempts and 264 yards.
“These guys made it easy for me,” Jackson said. “Coach did a great job at preparing us in practice and going through film and overall getting us ready for a game, whether it’s starting or coming off the bench.”
“I thought Driphus did an excellent job of coming in when Taylor [McHargue] got hurt,” Taylor said. “He stepped up and made a lot of plays.”
Taylor’s 153 receiving yards were a career high and surpassed James Casey’s team bowl record of 112 yards (in the 2008 Texas Bowl). And the 18 points he scored tied for the most by an Owl in a bowl, equaling Dicky Maegle’s 18 against Alabama in 1954.
“We actually had been pretty balanced between the run and pass all year,” Taylor said. “We didn’t make a lot of adjustments at halftime; the coaches just told us to execute and protect the football better than we did in the first half.”
Playing in their 10th bowl game in the school’s history, Rice is now 6-4 and has won two in a row; the Owls last appeared in the 2008 Texas Bowl at Houston’s Reliant Stadium, where they beat Western Michigan 38-16.
Rice set a team record for total offense in a bowl game with 508 yards, surpassing the 455 yards the Owls had in the 2008 Texas Bowl.
Rice’s defense smothered an Air Force ground attack that entered the game as the second-ranked rushing offense in the country at 328 yards per game. They limited the Falcons to just 166 yards on the ground and only 25 in the second half.
Rice held on to the ball for nearly 38 minutes, improving upon their second-ranked average of 33:41. Rice also averaged 6.1 yards per play on 83 plays, just one shy of tying the school bowl record of 84 (2008 Texas Bowl).
“I think the second half is how we responded all season,” said defensive end Jared Williams. “A lot of great leadership on the team. We came into the locker room. The second half was a new game for us, 0‑0. We came out, executed and got the job done.”
Rice and Air Force have now met seven times; the Falcons hold a 5-2 lead in the series. The teams last met in 1998 when Air Force beat Rice 22-16. Rice’s other win in the series came in 1986 (21-17). The announced attendance for the game was 40,754.
After their first two offensive drives of the game resulted in punts, the Owls took advantage of an Air Force fumble at Rice’s 43-yard line. Senior defensive end Jared Williams forced the Falcons’ Jon Lee fumble, and safety Gabe Baker recovered it for the Owls.
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The turnover quickly resulted in points on the board for Rice. A McHargue 20-yard quarterback keeper moved the Owls down to the Falcons’ 31-yard line. Two plays later McHargue found Taylor in the back corner of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown and the first score of the game.
The Owls led after the first quarter 7-0.
Early in the second quarter McHargue fumbled and set up Air Force at the Rice 44. A few plays later on fourth down and 11, the Falcons attempted a fake punt, but junior linebacker Michael Kutzler sniffed it out for a short 3-yard gain but a turnover on downs to the Owls.
The Owls tried to capitalize again. After they converted one first down, the drive resulted in a Chris Boswell 52-yard field goal attempt. As Boswell’s first attempt went straight through, Air Force called a timeout just before the Rice snap. Boswell’s second attempt went wide right.
Air Force took the ball over on their own 34-yard line and moved down the field on a 10-play, 66-yard scoring drive that had Air Force quarterback Kale Pearson running it in from 9 yards out and tying the game 7-7 with 6:14 left in the second quarter.
On the Owls’ next drive, McHargue lost his second fumble of the half on a rushing play that ended in a legal helmet-to-helmet collision. McHargue was injured on the play. The turnover gave the Falcons the ball at Rice’s 35-yard line. Nine plays later, Air Force senior running back Wes Cobb scored from a yard out on third and goal, giving the Falcons a 14-7 lead with 5:06 left in the first half.
On Rice’s next possession, Jackson took over for the injured McHargue and drove the team down into the Falcons’ 5-yard line. With 12 seconds left in the half, Jackson ran an option play to the right, but his toss to running back Turner Petersen resulted in the third Rice quarterback lost fumble of the first half. Air Force’s Chris Miller was credited with the recovery, and one kneel down later, the Owls headed into the locker room trailing 14-7.
After the Owls’ defense stopped the Falcons’ opening possession of the second half, the offense came out with Jackson still behind center for the injured McHargue. Rice put together an impressive drive. After completions of 25 and 22 yards to Vance McDonald and Taylor, respectively, Jackson again hit Taylor for a 22-yard touchdown pass. The Owls’ 8-play, 87-yard drive took 3:31 off the clock, and after Boswell’s extra point, the score was tied 14-14 with 9:30 left in the third quarter.
The Owls’ defense once again stepped up and stopped Air Force to one first down, and the Falcons were forced to punt the ball back to Rice. The Owls then used the rest of the third quarter going into a no-huddle offense and relied on Jackson’s arm to march them down the field for first-and-goal at the Falcons’ 4-yard line to start the fourth quarter.
Two plays into the fourth quarter, junior running back Charles Ross walked into the end zone to cap a 9-play, 74-yard drive, and the Owls took the lead 21-14 with 14:25 left in the game.
The touchdown energized the already stiffening Owls’ defense. The Falcons’ next possession went three and out, and Air Force was forced to punt the ball back to the Owls with 13 minutes left in the game.
One play later Petersen rumbled for 48 yards (his longest of the season) to give the Owls first and goal at the Falcons’ 7-yard line. The Falcons were able to hold the Owls to a Chris Boswell 24-yard field goal, but Rice had extended their lead to 24-14 with 11:18 left in the game.
The Owls’ defense once again came up big as the Falcons could muster only one first down before giving it back to Rice.
And the Owls capitalized again. On a third-and-nine play from the Falcons’ 44, Jackson hit Sam McGuffie for 35 yards, giving the Owls first and goal at the Falcons’ 9-yard line. Taking 4:56 off the clock, Rice added a Boswell 25-yard field goal to extend their lead to 27-14 with 4:31 left in the Armed Forces Bowl.
The defense, which was already lights out in the second half, closed the door on Air Force when Rice junior safety Paul Porras intercepted a Pearson pass intended for Falcons tight end Marcus Hendricks. The Owls scored a few plays later when Jackson hit Taylor for the wide receiver’s third touchdown. The James Farrimond extra point was blocked, but Rice was now ahead 33-14.
On the ensuing kickoff, Rice special teams forced a fumble on the return, which allowed Jackson to kneel to run the clock out.