Special to Rice News
By Chuck Pool
The Rice Owls marked this year’s homecoming celebration with an emotional and record-setting 52-14 victory over Louisiana Tech Saturday night at Rice Stadium. Rice running back Charles Ross ran for five scores to set a school record and tie the Conference USA (C-USA) record for most touchdowns in a game, and he became the seventh Owl to rush for 1,000 yards in a season with a career-best 215.
“That was a lot of fun,” head coach David Bailiff said. “The electricity and the great atmosphere of homecoming, the first kick, the way the offense decided to take the ball tonight and how they took the ball down the field to score I thought set the tone for the football game. We overcame a bad snap. We overcame some penalties, overcame a turnover and still got points. It was just that kind of night. It was a kind of night that we did a lot of right.”
Rice rebounded from a loss at North Texas Halloween night in dominating fashion, setting season highs for both rushing yards (415) and total offense (582). The win moved Rice back into a tie with North Texas in the C-USA West race, with just two weeks remaining in the season. More importantly, it allowed the Owls to honor their head coach in the best way they knew how.
The team hit the field with heavy hearts, as their week of preparation was tempered with the knowledge that Bailiff’s father, Bob, who has been a fixture at Rice games over the past seven seasons, died Tuesday night. Having taken full advantage of the two-week break to mend many of the bumps and bruises that had accumulated through the first nine games, the team responded with a defining effort in front of 19,707 fans.
“This is an emotional time for me,” Bailiff said. “This football team is amazing — my family is amazing — how they’ve rallied around me. It just makes me more proud and humbled to be the head coach of these great young men. My father was the finest dad a kid could have. I’m the man I am because of my dad. He’s been by my side every step of the way. And so this was very tough tonight to look up to where he stood for seven years and him not be there. But we’ll get through it because of my family. We’ll get through it because of these great young men at this university who surround me.”
Ironically, on a night that would see them dominate on the ground, the Owls took to the air on their opening series to take an early lead.
Taylor McHargue was three for three on passing in the four plays it took the Owls to march 66 yards, the final 41 coming on a spectacular catch and run by Dennis Parks, who slipped out of the grasp of several Bulldog defenders.
Louisiana Tech seemed poised to quickly answer, driving 70 yards in seven plays to the Rice five, but Cody Bauer broke through the line to down Bulldog quarterback Paul Harris for an eight-yard loss while stripping the ball away. Christian Covington scooped up the loose ball to end the threat.
Rice then turned to Ross to shoulder the load, and the senior responded. After gaining four on his first carry, he blasted free on a 48-yard run to move the ball to midfield. Later in the drive, McHargue lost control of the ball at the Louisiana.Tech 18, and the Bulldogs’ Daniel Cobb picked it up and began to move up field. But Donte Moore stripped the ball loose and Nate Richards recovered.
Seven plays later, Ross barged in from two yards out to make it 14-0.
The Rice defense stiffened after Louisiana Tech’s opening offensive incursion, allowing the Bulldogs only 83 yards the remainder of the first half, while the Rice offense added 10 more points on a 30-yard Chris Boswell field goal and a five-yard scoring jaunt by Ross.
The 24-0 lead at halftime marked the first time the Owls held an opponent scoreless in the first half since they led Tulane 10-0 in 2011.
Bauer made certain that Tech would not grab any momentum when the Bulldogs received the second half kickoff. The senior stopped Tevin King for a combined loss of seven yards on the first two plays and then for a gain of five on third down to force a punt. Rice then marched 75 yards in 14 plays to extend its lead to 31-0.
“The defense was a very dominating performance,” Bailiff said. “Cody Bauer went out there and set the tone the second half and made three tackles in a row. At halftime, Cody really rose to the occasion. You can still tell he’s growing, and he’s a great leader of this team.”
Tech finally reached the end zone when Sterling Griffin scored on a 74-yard pass play. On the ensuing kickoff a penalty put Rice back on its own seven;,the Bulldogs were looking for a break to bring them closer in the game.
Instead, the Owls slugged out a 93-yard scoring drive that ended on the first play of the fourth quarter, a one-yard run by Ross. The drive allowed the Owls to hold the ball for 11:59 in the third quarter and put them on their way to having possession of the ball for more than 40 minutes on the night.
Ross capped his record-setting day with his fifth and final touchdown, a 19-yard run that also pushed him over 1,000 yards rushing for the season. He finished the night with 1,043 yards on the year, becoming the first Owl to reach 1,000 since Quinton Smith in 2006. His season total ranks seventh in school history and his career total of 2,422 ranks fourth all-time.
“Charles has really matured as a running back this season,” Bailiff said. “You can tell he’s really patient at times and waiting on some soft spots or seams to develop or hugging a wall the O-line is creating. A lot of that is Charles’ hard work to become an every-down back. In the past it was all about the power, but this year he’s learned patience and when to put a foot in the ground and accelerate, and that’s really helped Charles’ game go to the next level.”
The Owls will have little time to savor the victory. They will be back in action Thursday at 6:30 p.m. when they face the University of Alabama at Birmingham. They return to Rice Stadium Nov. 30 to close out the regular season against Tulane.
UPDATED Oct. 18:
Charles Ross and Chris Boswell, who combined for 40 of Rice’s 52 points in the Owls 52-14 homecoming win over Louisiana Tech on Saturday night, were honored by C-USA as the conference’s Offensive and Special Teams Players of the Week in voting by media who cover the conference.
This is the first time Ross has won the C-USA Player of the Week honor, while it is Boswell’s third this season and the sixth of his career. He is the only kicker in the conference to earn multiple honors this year.
Ross’ five scores vaulted him into the C-USA and Rice scoring leads. He is averaging 9.0 points per game (72 total), while averaging a conference-leading 126.0 yards per game.
Boswell scored 10 points to move into third place on the C-USA career kicking scoring list, including his 63rd career field goal to move into fifth on the conference career list.