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Rice comeback falls just short against Old Dominion

By By Evan Neustater     9/24/14 8:06am

The Rice University football team fell short in their comeback attempt against Old Dominion University in front of 17,588 spectators on Saturday, Sept. 20 at Rice Stadium. Despite making a 21-point comeback culminating in a game-tying touchdown with just over a minute remaining, the Rice football team could not overcome the Monarchs.

Down 35-14 with 11 minutes left in the third quarter, the Owls outscored the Monarchs 28-7 from then until there was 1:05 remaining in the game, when a seven-yard touchdown run from sophomore Darik Dillard tied the game at 42 points apiece.

Getting the ball back with just over a minute remaining, the Old Dominion offense led by senior quarterback Taylor Heinicke moved the ball down the field to set up the game-winning 25-yard field goal that would give the Monarchs the 45-42 victory. A 45-yard pass from Heinicke to sophomore receiver Zach Pascal to put the Monarchs on the Rice 14-yard line highlighted the game-winning drive.

Head Coach David Bailiff said the defense recovered in the second half after allowing five touchdowns in the first 34 minutes.

“I think in the second half the defense came out and performed well,” Bailiff said. “We cut Heinicke’s passing yards in half, we had three three-and-outs, but we have to get better defensively, especially on our deep-ball coverage: It’s been our Achilles.”

The game featured offensive production from both sides, with the Monarchs outgaining the Owls 530 yards to 526. Heinicke led all players offensively in the game, completing 27 of 42 passes for 430 yards, 330 of which were in the first half, and five touchdowns, while also adding 26 yards and a score on the ground.

The Owls recorded 284 yards rushing and 242 through the air.  Sophomore running backs Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard continued to split carries, with Davis rushing for 150 yards on 24 carries and Dillard adding 70 yards and three touchdowns.

Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Zach Wright, who caught six passes for 80 yards and a touchdown in the game, said he has been impressed by the offense’s ability, especially with the play of the offensive line.

“I couldn’t say enough about our offensive line and how great they’ve done,” Wright said. “Ian Gray has done really great this year at the left tackle spot, just really exceeding expectations… They were just physically beating them down in the trenches.”

Junior quarterback Driphus Jackson completed 15 of 22 passes for 175 yards and two touchdown passes in limited action. After Jackson injured his shoulder in the first quarter, sophomore quarterback Tyler Stehling completed 7 of 12 passes for 67 yards in replacement duty before Jackson returned at the beginning of the second half.

Bailiff said despite not having won a game yet, Jackson has guided the offense through his leadership and playing ability.

“We knew [Jackson] was good, but he has exceeded expectations, and I think it’s because he’s a true student of the game,” Bailiff said. “When you study football the way he studies it, there’s never a situation too big for you, and I think every week from the Notre Dame game to the Old Dominion game he has performed.”

According the Wright, Rice must now move on from the loss and stay focused on the task ahead.

“We’re just trying to move on from this game,” Wright said. “It’s definitely a very hard pill to swallow, but there’s a lot of positives that were taken out of it and we’re going to focus on those and head to [The University of Southern Mississippi] and earn our first [win].”

Senior wide receiver Jordan Taylor and junior defensive tackle Christian Covington were held out of action with lingering injuries.  

Redshirt junior defensive end Brian Nordstrom said the team’s defense relies on young players rising to the occasion when injuries occur.

“Even with the injuries we’ve had, a lot of guys stepped up,” Nordstrom said. “Everyone was just giving it their all… All these guys who weren’t expecting to play a lot just stepped up. I’m really proud of how our defense played from an effort standpoint.  Obviously there are a lot of issues we need to address, but we’re looking forward to learning from our mistakes and have them corrected by the time we play Southern Miss next week.”

The University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (2-2), who have gone 3-25 over the past three seasons, are coming off a 21-20 victory over Appalachian State University and are also looking to earn their first conference win of the season.

Southern Mississippi has the fourth-lowest scoring average in the Football Bowl Subdivision, averaging 14.8 points per game. Additionally, the Golden Eagles have the No. 106 ranked scoring defense in the nation, allowing 35.3 points per game.  Rice’s No. 36 ranked rushing offense will look to exploit the Golden Eagle’s defensive struggles and earn their first victory of the season.

Despite the recent struggles of the Golden Eagles, Bailiff said their team is improving and is a force to be reckoned with.

“[USM Head Coach Todd Monken] is as good a football coach as there is in the country,” Bailiff said. “They’re solid this year and they’re playing hard. The last time we played them here they made a lot of mistakes, and he’s got those mistakes worked out and they’re improving every time they hit the field.”

Bailiff also said it is critical for Rice to go out and win a road game, especially after starting the season with three consecutive losses.

“We need to go on the road and get a win,” Bailiff said. “I think our football team will be hungry for one.”

The game against Southern Mississippi will kick off at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.


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