Fanuzzi has career day; Rice takes down UTEP
At the start of the season, it appeared that veteran senior quarterback Nick Fanuzzi was destined to be holding a clipboard on the sideline and watching the Owls' (3-6, 2-4 C-USA) season unfold. After losing his starting position over the summer to sophomore Taylor McHargue, it looked like the University of Alabama transfer was essentially done as an integral player. He proved all of that wrong this past weekend in the homecoming game against the University of Texas at El Paso (4- 5, 1-4 C-USA), which ended with a 41-37 win for the Blue and Gray.
"There's nobody I am more proud of than Nick Fanuzzi who got his opportunity to start and to come into that game and take advantage of the play," Head Coach David Bailiff said. "To throw for 405 yards and just to really lead the offense down the field. He made plays when he had to. I am really, really proud of him."
After receiving the kickoff, UTEP scored on a 74-yard pass from quarterback Nick Lamaison in the third play of the game, leaving the Owls down 7-0 in what ended up being a true shootout. Rice answered with two straight touchdown drives themselves, one capped by a 44-yard run sophomore running back Turner Petersen, another with a seven-yard run by sophomore running back Jeremy Eddington. With Eddington finally back in place in the Wild Owl offensive scheme, the score was 14-7 at the end of the first quarter.
UTEP stormed back in the second, with two touchdowns and a field goal, going up 24-20 at the half. Two successful field goals from sophomore placekicker Chris Boswell kept the score tight.
Coming out of halftime, the teams traded punts until Fanuzzi found junior wide receiver Vance McDonald in the corner of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown completion. The first Fanuzzi passing touchdown of the day put Rice up 27-24. One more UTEP passing touchdown ended the third quarter with the Miners up 31- 27, putting the Owls' seventh consecutive homecoming victory in doubt.
Fanuzzi simply was not willing to accept a loss and led his team down the field on an 83-yard drive with five consecutive completed passes. Despite a five-yard penalty for too many men in the backfield on the goal line, Fanuzzi still managed to punch the ball in from the red zone, hitting redshirt freshman wide receiver Taylor Jordan on a six-yard pass. The Boswell extra point put the Owls up 34-31 with minutes remaining.
The next drive, the Owls' defense showed up, forcing UTEP to punt and put the ball back in the offense's hands one more time. Fanuzzi again put together a field-long drive, finding senior wide receiver Randy Kitchens in the end zone. The touchdown left the score at 41-31, meaning the Miners would have to get the ball twice more in the final three minutes to have a chance to tie the game.
UTEP scored on their next possession, but it was too late for the Owls' victory to ever really be in doubt. After the mixed extra point, the final score would stand at 41-37.
Fanuzzi ended the game 30 for 43, with 405 yards of total passing. Add in his 34 yards of rushing and he was a huge part of the Owls' total 671 yards. Petersen, taking snaps inside the Wild Owl formation, also threw for 44 yards and rushed for 74.
"There isn't too much else you can say about," McDonald said. "We just had so much success we just never slowed down. It's been a long time coming. We knew as soon as we stepped into meetings this week we had the game plan ready to go."
This weekend, Rice travels to Evanston, Ill. to take on Northwestern University (4-5), looking for their second win of the season against a Big 10 opponent, after defeating Purdue University earlier in the year. Rice beat their first team from a BCS automatic qualifying conference since 2001.
Northwestern, a mediocre team in the Big 10 Conference, is coming off a big win against a nationally ranked University of Nebraska team and is looking to beat Rice to help it stay bowl eligible.
Northwestern does have a good rushing attack that will challenge the Rice defensive line, averaging 190 yards per game. Rice must limit this number by making plays on the line of scrimmage if they hope to win this game. Northwestern's star quarterback Dan Persa sustained a shoulder injury during last week's game at Nebraska, but backup quarterback Kain Colter, a more athletic player than Persa, manhandled the Cornhuskers' famed Blackshirt defense, victimizing them with both runs and passes to Jeremy Ebert, one of the top receivers in the Big 10. Persa has stated he will play tomorrow, so the Owls may see the athletic Colter line up at wide receiver for part of the game. The Wildcats do feature a weak pass defense, which is something Fanuzzi will have the opportunity to exploit.
Rice senior defensive lineman John Gioffre is excited about playing inside Big 10 country.
"We've made mistakes, but at least we know what we're doing," Gioffre said. "The conference or the school, it doesn't matter to me. It's a win that we have to have. And Northwestern, its an away game and they're going to be a tough opponent; but like I said countless times, I love that atmosphere to play in, and I know the rest of the team feels that same way."
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