Rice linebacker Michael Kutzler started the home opener with a bang when he intercepted a pass eight minutes into the game and returned it 52 yards for a score, giving the Owls a 7-0 lead over Kansas. Rice went on to win 23-14.
"That was a great feeling, to get us off on the right foot and to see all of my teammates and the crowd get so excited," said Kutzler. "It was a great defensive play by the whole team all around, the line got a great push. We have a whole new mentality as a defensive unit, so to come out here tonight and hold them to 14 points, we're proud of that."
The Owls limited the Jayhawks to a total of 270 yards of offense on the night — 170 yards passing and 100 rushing. Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps was held to just 157 yards passing on 28 attempts, and the Owls intercepted him twice. James Sims led the Jayhawks in rushing with 109 yards on 19 carries, and Kansas had just 11 first down. More importantly, Rice allowed Kansas to convert on only 6 of 17 third-down attempts.
"I'm really proud of this football team. This was a game we wouldn't have won two years ago," said Rice head coach David Bailiff. "We've been through some hard times, but we're starting to show signs of growing up and we're playing with great effort and confidence that we have a chance to win. It's hard to win college football games period, so to win at home against a Big 12 opponent is pretty special."
The Owls opened the scoring with Kutzler's interception, his second career touchdown return of an interception.
The Jayhawks tied the score 7-7 early in the second quarter, when Heaps found Tony Pierson on a slant, and Pierson broke free from his defenders and raced 77 yards for the touchdown. The Owls responded on their ensuing possession with an eight-play drive, highlighted by Taylor McHargue hitting receiver Dennis Parks on a 54-yard strike that moved the ball deep into Kansas territory. Boswell followed by connecting on a 40-yard field goal that gave the Owls a 10-7 lead.
Later in the second quarter with the Owls leading 10-7, Rice stopped a Kansas scoring opportunity when Bryce Callahan came up with a deflected pass deep in Owls territory for his ninth career interception.
"We just could not get going, and we kept shooting ourselves in the foot with some drops and the turnovers," said Heaps. "It's unfortunate and I was surprised by it. We've worked really hard this season, and we really had a good week at practice. We were all excited for this game, for our team and for our offense in particular. We just did not come out and play like we practice."
Rice then moved the football 71 yards down the field and capitalized when Boswell booted a 28-yard field goal with nine seconds left in the half, making the score 13-7.
The teams traded possessions and punts in the third quarter until Kansas kicker Matthew Wyman missed a 47-yard field goal attempt. Two plays later, McHargue's pass was intercepted by Isaiah Johnson, and returned to the Owls' 25 yard line.
Heaps was able to convert a critical third-down play when he scrambled and found Tre Parmelee for a 17-yard completion that ended up just short of the Rice goal line. Heaps then scored on a plunge to give the Jayhawks their first lead of the game, 14-13.
The Owls special teams that came up with a big play early in the fourth quarter when Derek Brown partially blocked a Kansas punt that went out of bounds at midfield, giving the Owls excellent field position with 10 minutes to play.
When McHargue began to show signs of fatigue, Rice coach David Bailiff decided to go to backup quarterback Driphus Jackson. The sophomore out of Cedar Hill, Texas, moved them into long field goal range. Facing a fourth down from the 39-yard line, Bailiff sent Boswell out to attempt the 56-yarder.
"It was right on the edge, and if I had to do it again, I might not have tried it," said Bailiff. "But the kid came through and he's a great kicker. We have a lot of confidence in him."
Boswell nailed the kick to give Rice a 16-14 lead. "It felt great right when I hit it, and coming off my foot, I knew it was good," said Boswell.
After another defensive stop by the Owls, Jackson led Rice down the field for their only offensive touchdown of the contest, giving them a nine-point cushion when Ross punched it in.
McHargue completed 14 of 31 pass attempts for 168 yards and Ross carried the ball a career-high 27 times for 157 yards.
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