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Football loses to Northwestern, not going to bowl

By Teddy Grodek     11/16/11 6:00pm

After beating Purdue University earlier in the season, it was thought that the stigma when playing against major conference teams had disappeared for the football team. The team was hoping to go 2-0 against Big 10 teams this season – what would surely have been a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing campaign. Northwestern University, a mediocre Big 10 team, had other plans when the Owls traveled to Evanston, Ill. this past weekend.

Northwestern dominated from start to finish, with Rice unable to move the ball until the closing minutes of the game. The Owls' offense, who had strung together a streak of high scoring games, apparently didn't get on the plane at Hobby Airport last Friday.

"We couldn't get anything explosive," Head Coach David Bailiff said. "We ran the ball and get to the safeties but just couldn't make people miss. They are a very solid defensive football team. We just had a hard time establishing a running game or establishing a throwing game."

Rice started off with a three-and-out on a drive that only netted eight total yards. Northwestern scored their first touchdown a few minutes later, despite senior punter Kyle Martens placing the Wildcats on their own four-yard line.

It only took a few seconds for the Wildcats to score on their drive, when Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa found wide receiver Jeremy Ebert on a 90-yard play that put the Owls down 7-0. Persa, who had been injured the week before, showed no signs of it this week against the Owls.

Rice continued to struggle on offense throughout the half, despite an interception by junior safety Corey Frazier that left the team at their own 44 – a prime scoring position.

After a Rice punt and the waste of great field position, Northwestern again had no problem moving the football. Persa would find Ebert again on a 17-yard route with a few minutes remaining in the second quarter to make the game 14-0.

An interception thrown by senior quarterback Nick Fanuzzi would give Northwestern one last opportunity to put the ball in the end zone in the first half's closing minutes. With one minute left, Persa took the ball and once again drove his team down the field, hitting one of his receivers on a 15-yard crossing route for his third touchdown pass of the game. The score was 21-0 heading into the locker room.

Rice's defense played well in the third quarter, shutting Northwestern out completely. Freshman cornerback Bryce Callahan had his sixth interception of the season, tops among freshmen in the country.

Persa would start the fourth quarter by throwing one more touchdown, a little three-yard dump on the goal line. In addition to four touchdown passes, Persa ended with 372 passing yards, one of the best days of his career.

Rice avoided the shut out in the closing minutes of the game, with a nine-yard touchdown run by senior halfback Tyler Smith. It would have been the first time in 132 games that Rice had been shut-out.

Smith led the Owls in rushing with 88 yards for the day, averaging four yards a carry. Fanuzzi, who had recently taken over the starting quarterback reins from sophomore Taylor McHargue, had an unremarkable day under center, throwing for only 92 yards with the one interception.

This next week, the Owls conclude their home season with their last game in Houston. Tulane University travels to Rice Stadium, and is looking to snap an eight-game losing streak. Tulane only has one win inside Conference USA, a road game against the University of Alabama-Birmingham, and are hoping that the struggling Owls defense is just what they need.

Rice senior safety Xavier Webb commented on his feelings about playing his last home football game.

"It will be emotional," Webb said. "Last [home] game, second to last game, for most of us to play football in our career. It will be emotional, but it will be a football game, and you always want to beat the person across from you. So during the game, I think it will just be another football game."

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