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Wednesday, December 06, 2023 — Houston, TX

Football wins its first-ever AAC game, defeats ECU 24-17

Francesca Nemati / Thresher

By Kathleen Ortiz     10/4/23 12:21am

Sporting Columbia-blue Houston Oilers-themed throwback jerseys, Rice secured a 24-17 win in their American Athletic Conference home opener against East Carolina University on Saturday. While the Owls only trailed for five minutes in the first quarter, the game was close the entire time as both teams fought for their first AAC win of the season.

Coming off a week of uncertainty after graduate transfer quarterback suffered a lower body injury during last weekend’s loss, Saturday’s game forced Daniels to adapt his play around his physical capabilities.

“I was basically trying not to use [my ankle] for the most part, which is a change but it’s not like a super significant crazy change I had to get adjusted to,” Daniels said. “Once we did and once I felt good moving, then it was completely fine, out of the question, but there’s a little bit of confidence in feeling good on the ankle.”

Both teams traded field goals in the first quarter, and Rice scored its first touchdown early in the second. Daniels’ four-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Rawson MacNeill was aided by junior linebacker Chris Conti’s interception of an ECU throw at the tailend of the first quarter. The Pirates then responded with two field goals to bring their deficit to one point at the half.

The score was 10-9 headed into the break, but Head Coach Mike Bloomgren and the Owls knew they needed to make improvements if they were going to change the ending from last week’s loss.

“My halftime speech was not elaborate,” Bloomgren said. “It was like, ‘Well here we are again. We have a one point lead at halftime, just like last week. We didn’t play very good in the first half, just like last week. Now what are we going to do? What are we going to do individually and collectively to make sure we come back in this locker room and it’s a victorious locker room and we’re playing our music and making it look like a club instead of being all sad-faced and talking about what could have been?’”

His speech may have paid off. The third quarter was relatively quiet on both ends until freshman quarterback Chase Jenkins ran four yards into the endzone in the last minute to widen Rice’s lead to 17-9. ECU responded in the fourth quarter with a touchdown and two point conversion to tie the game with 8:24 left.

To put Rice back on top with 6:24 left in the game, freshman Landon Ransom-Goelz scored a touchdown on a 44-yard catch and run from Daniels. After a week without practicing while nursing his injury, Daniels finished the game with 232 passing yards.

“I thought JT Daniels was a complete warrior today,” Bloomgren said. “Obviously we set the bar so high and have such high hopes and expectations every time he plays, and this one will never go down as his best game on the stats sheet, but it’s one of his best games ever because of what he fought through to get there and because he stayed on the field through it all.”

Before Bloomgren knew Daniels would be able to play at all this weekend, Chase Jenkins was slotted in the starting quarterback spot. In the end, the offense played a dual-quarterback system against the Pirates. Jenkins was able to go in and help the team as Daniels continued to adjust after his week of recovery.

“You got a week of film and meetings and all that, but none of it translates, none of it is ever the same as actually doing the thing physically,” Daniels said on his preparation for this weekend. “I love when we get Chase in.”

Jenkins led Rice in rushing yards with four carries, 27 yards and one touchdown, his first in college. The only other true freshman in Rice history to graduate early from high school and begin practicing with the football team in the winter, Ransom-Goelz led the team in receiving yards with two receptions, 54 yards and one touchdown.

“Some big-time contributions [are] by some guys that maybe aren’t household names in the Owl families yet,” Bloomgren said on the underclassmen who stepped up and filled gaps this weekend. “Guys like Daveon Hook, guys like Chase Jenkins [who] jumped in there. Two of the guys that scored touchdowns for us on offense, Chase [Jenkins] and Landon Ransom-Goelz, were here in January.” 

Securing a win moved Rice’s record to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the conference. Next weekend, the Owls will host the University of Connecticut, who are 0-5 so far this season. The game will start at 4 p.m. Oct. 7, streaming on ESPN+.

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