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Rice 52, McNeese State 10



HIGH STEPPIN' -- On third and goal from the 7, T J McMahon finds his receivers covered, tucks it under and dances into the end zone to spark Owl runaway (David Speed Elder photo)

HOUSTON (Sept. 11) – How about let’s just savor this one?

After all, it’s been 14 years since the last time our Boys from the Institute hung such a one-sided victory on an opponent. Then it was North Texas; this time it was a bunch from casino-studded climes of southwestern-most Louisiana, as the Owls flattened McNeese State, 52-10, on a warm, pleasant Indian summer evening at newly-renovated Rice Stadium.

After something of a slow start, it was all Owls, as they converted five Cowboy turnovers into points en route to that 52 point total.

Perhaps the end result wasn’t quite so one-sided as the score indicated, but then again perhaps not. The box score showed clear domination by the Owls, with virtually double the number of first downs, time of possession and total yardage.

“We’re a talented football team and I’m glad we finally showed it,” Rice head  coach Mike Bloomgren said afterwards. “It’s fun to be a part of.

T J McMahon was effective in his execution at quarterback, if not flawless.  Despite a handful of passing attempts that missed open receivers, the sixth-year senior connected on 20 of 29 tosses for 279 yards and four touchdowns, one of them a 75-yard beauty to Bradley Rozner on the Owls’ first play of the second half.

That put the Owls up, 38-7, and pretty much ended any chances the Cowboys had of making a game of it.

“The players have faith in me and are supportive,” T J said afterwards.   “We have two great quarterbacks. The team has both of our backs. Wiley did a great job in camp.  And  I have to stay ready when opportunity comes knocking."

Despite a sputtering start, by halftime, the Owls had wrought a 31-0 lead that started with a 28-yard Christian Van Sickle field goal after Myron Montgomery recovered a Knox Kadum fumble at the McNeese 14 yard line.  The offense failed to advance the ball on this possession with a one-yard loss loss on first down and a badly-missed pass on second -- a minor cause for alarm.

But after forcing a three and out followed by a shanked punt on the visitors’ next possession, the Owls got good and cranked up, traveling 35 yards in  four plays to take a 10-0 lead. The TD came on a 13-yard pass reception by Bradley Rozner utilizing his long reach in the corner of the end zone.

The Cowboys moved the ball on their next possession but were shut down when they got as far as the Rice 37 when Blake Boenisch and Ikenna Enechukwu nailed quarterback Kase Cadum for a sack.  Next play, Treshawn Chamberlain picked off a Cadum pass at the Rice 24.  The Flock promptly responded by traveling 70 yards in 11 plays. 

This time T J McMahon dropped back to pass on third and 7 at the McNeese 9, then scampered into the end zone untouched when he saw his receivers covered.

McNeese advanced as far as the Rice 14 yard line, next possession, all of it gained on the ground. But on third and four from there, Gabe Taylor stepped in from of a Kadum pass and zoomed 91 yards the other way for a Rice pick-six.  The 91 yards distance covered counted as the third-longest interception return for a touchdown in Owl football annals.  It was a needed boost, after the Owls suffered three pick-sixes at the hands of USC the week before.

“Our defense was disappointing at USC,” Gabe allowed in his postgamer. “We had a lot to improve on. This game just boosts our confidence for the next time.”

The Owls had one more trick in their pockets before halftime as a substituted McNeese QB Cam Ransom bobbled a snap, retreated, and was nailed 14 yards backwards, coughing up the pill at the Cowboy 20 where it was pounced on by Sean Fresch.  T J McMahon then moved the ball to the lip of the cup with a 17-yard scramble, Ari Broussard taking it over from the two a couple of plays later.

That 31-0 halftime lead was the Owls’ biggest since taking a 34-3 score into the locker room at the half against UTEP six seasons ago.

Long-time Owl fans may remember the time at Louisiana Tech 20-odd seasons ago when Kyle Herm brought the Owls back from a 31-0 halftime deficit, only to lose via a missed field goal in overtime.

Maybe it was the innate cautiousness of some Old Grads, the inclination that makes one look back down the field for penalty flags when an Owls scores on a long run or pass, but when McNeese’s Deonta McMahon threaded his way 62 yards for a touchdown two plays deep into the second half to put the Cowboys on the board at 31-7,  the thought flickered to some:  can this be the start of a big letdown?

But that’s when TJ and Brad Rozner put the matter to rest with that 75-yard scoring strike the very first play of Rice’s ensuing possession.

Rice tacked on a couple more  scores,  the first midway in the third quarter, the first on an 80--yard, six-play drive culminating in a 17-yard TD toss from TJ to Jack Bradley, and the final on a 15-yard TD reception by Juma Otaviano capping a 75-yard, 11-play drive with five minutes to go in the game.

So it was a game in which the Owls excelled in all three phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams. But “as good as it was in all three phases, it’s nowhere near our best,” Coach Bloom insisted. “Still it’s  a real step forward for our program.”

The Owls stay at home next weekend for a 6:30 pm tilt with the University of Louisiana, known to some of us by their former name, Southwestern Louisiana, or a riff on their present name, “ULaLa”; that is, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.  But whatever they’re called, The Ragin’ Cajuns, for a directional school, have been tearing up the turf recently, and they come into Rice Stadium with a 15-game winning streak.

Last season, as late as November, they were ranked as high as 16th in the nation. At 2-0 so far, they’ll likely bring in a fair number of celebrants from Bayou Country.

Who scheduled this thing, anyway?

--PTH

 

 

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