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Saturday, April 20, 2024 — Houston, TX

Hoot’s house: Rice defeats Houston in Bayou Bucket

Courtesy Brandon Martin Football head coach Mike Bloomgren holds the Bayou Bucket trophy over his head post-victory.

By Andersen Pickard     9/13/23 12:52am

President Reggie DesRoches stormed the field. Graduate transfer quarterback JT Daniels took selfies with students. Head coach Mike Bloomgren hoisted a golden bucket over his head. This was the scene following Rice Football’s 43-41 victory over the University of Houston Cougars in double overtime Saturday, bringing the Bayou Bucket back to Rice for the first time since 2010. 

Rice set the tone of the game with a dominating first quarter that saw strong plays on both sides of the ball. Less than two minutes after junior wide receiver Luke McCaffrey caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Daniels on the opening drive, junior cornerback Tre’Shon Devones picked off the Houston quarterback. The Owls capitalized on the turnover after freshman running back Daelen Alexander scored a touchdown on a short run, giving Rice a 14-0 lead. 

A Houston three-and-out on the next possession gave the ball back to the Owls’ offense. Daniels connected with McCaffrey for the second time on a highlight reel 32-yard touchdown pass, putting the Owls up 21-0 in the first quarter. 

Daniels threw for 401 passing yards, tying a career high, with three touchdowns and an interception. McCaffrey applauded Daniels for his skill and effort which, he said, was reflected on every play of the game. 

“I’m so thankful JT is in this program,” McCaffrey said postgame. “So thankful for the demeanor he has every single play and the ability to put that ball where you need it.”

A Houston punt at the start of the second quarter enabled the Owls to extend their lead to 28 after an 11-play, 77-yard drive culminated in redshirt freshman Braylen Walker’s first career touchdown reception. 

“The first 24 to 26 minutes of the game was Rice Owl football, and it was the jump from [the loss at Texas] we wanted to see,” Bloomgren said.

The Cougars responded quickly as they converted two fourth downs before a Houston wide receiver caught a touchdown to put them on the board. The Owls attempted to add one more score before the half ended but were stymied after a Daniels end-zone interception. Rice took a 28-7 lead into halftime. 

After allowing a combined 35 points in the first half, both defenses stood strong for a scoreless third quarter. The Owls’ defense forced two turnovers on downs while the Cougars’ defense forced a punt and an Owls fumble, leaving the score at 28-7.

Houston rallied in the fourth quarter, scoring 21 points, tying the tally and sending the ​​game into overtime. Having scored 28 unanswered points, the Cougars were on the verge of the biggest comeback in Houston football history. Bloomgren cited turnovers as the catalyst for the Owls’ lead slipping away.

“Turnovers are really the only way they could’ve gotten back in that game, and unfortunately we gave them the opportunity there,” Bloomgren said.

Tied at 28 at the end of regulation, the Cougars scored a quick touchdown at the start of overtime. Rice, whose defense had allowed 35 unanswered points and whose offense hadn’t scored since the first half, needed a touchdown to stay alive. 

With their backs against the wall, the Owls tied the score at 35 after Alexander plunged up the middle for the score. The freshman was called upon again at the end of the next drive, tallying his third touchdown of the game. He also scored on the two-point conversion, giving Rice a 43-35 lead.

“As long as Coach [Bloomgren] calls me in, I’m going to score,” Alexander said. “I’m going to do what I can for this team.”

Courtesy Brandon Martin

Wide receiver Luke McCaffrey dives to catch a touchdown pass from quarterback JT Daniels. 

Not ready to concede, Houston scored a quick touchdown, pulling within two points. With his team just one defensive stop away from a Bayou Bucket victory, Bloomgren called a timeout. 

“What we thought is if we [called timeout] late enough, they’d use up what would have been their No. 1 call for the two-point play. It looked like it was going to be a quarterback plunge,” Bloomgren said. “They came back, we were prepared. We had a better call for the plunge and we were also very in tune they might do something different.”

The Cougars quarterback stood in an empty backfield, took the snap and locked on his first read: a receiver dashing to the back right corner of the end zone. He fired a pass, but it was deflected by redshirt sophomore Jonathan Jean. 

The stadium erupted and Rice players, coaches, students and fans alike stormed the field to celebrate. Even after the field was cleared and players returned to their locker room, the energy did not dissipate.

“It was like a club that I don’t go to anymore,” Bloomgren said of the locker room. “It was a very fun atmosphere, a lot of guys celebrating a very hard-earned victory.”

“I really found joy in seeing my teammates happy,” Devones added. “We have guys that only say two or three words since I’ve been here and now they’re in there jumping around, screaming. Some of them got some good dance moves. It’s just an environment that you’ll never forget.” 

Francesca Nemati / Thresher

Running back Daelen Alexander hurdles over a pack of players .

After seven consecutive losses, Rice won its first Bayou Bucket since 2010. Saturday’s victory was the first double-overtime game in the history of Rice-Houston football, and the Owls’ 43 points were the most they had scored against the Cougars since 2008. 

The 4.6-mile drive separating Rice and Houston is the smallest distance between any two FBS programs, making the win extra sweet for the Owls. 

“We don’t really like them, they don’t like us,” Alexander said. “It was that much more important. That’s why it was great for the fanbase, for the whole team in general.”

Next up for the Owls is a clash with Texas Southern University at Rice Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 16. The game kicks off at 6 p.m. and will be streamed on ESPN+. When these two teams last met in 2021, Rice claimed a 48-34 victory.

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