Cougars hold on for wild win over Rice
In a game that featured a combined 1,189 offensive yards between Rice and Houston, the Bayou Bucket was decided on a defensive play by the Cougars, who took out the Owls 56-48 before 26,514 Saturday at Robertson Stadium.
On a critical third down with just under five minutes left in the game, Houston had a 49-48 lead. Rice quarterback Chase Clement was flushed out of the pocket and senior defensive end Phillip Hunt drove Clement to the ground, and though Clement managed to get the ball out of his hands and avoid a sack, the Cougars got what they wanted – a punt.
On the ensuing drive, Houston senior running back Anthony Alridge sealed the Cougars’ highest scoring game this season with a 50-yard touchdown run. Alridge finished with 205 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries.
The fourth quarter was a mixture of defense and big plays by Alridge. The man whom Cougars head coach Art Briles called the fastest man playing NCAA football exploded for 115 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Hunt added much needed pressure to Clements and forced Rice (1-5, 1-1 Conference USA) to punt in two crucial possessions, and the Cougars took that chance to win the game.
However, the Cougars (3-3, 2-1 C-USA) would probably not have been in the game without the play of senior wide receiver Donnie Avery, who set a Conference USA and school-record with 346 receiving yards and two on 13 receptions and two touchdowns. Avery, who finished with 427 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, averaged more than 26 yards per reception.
The Cougars started the game off on a bang. On Houston’s second play from scrimmage, sophomore quarterback Blake Joseph hit Avery on a 77-yard touchdown pass to put the Cougars up 7-0. Joseph and Avery connected for two more big plays for 131 yards and another touchdown in the first half.
Freshman wide receiver Teric Williams fumbled after Rice scored its first touchdown and the Owls tied the game at 14 on their next drive.
Houston answered by driving 65 yards and Joseph found himself with another touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jeron Harvey from 18-yards out.
The Cougars ended the quarter with a 28-14 lead. Joseph finished the game with a career-high 318 yards passing, completing 11-of-18 passes with three touchdowns and an interception.
Rice capitalized by scoring 20 points in the second quarter. The Cougars had a chance to take the lead into halftime, but Joseph lost a snap at the one-yard line with eight seconds left, and the Cougars were held scoreless in the second quarter.
The Cougars came out of halftime with redshirt freshman Case Keenum at quarterback. On Keenum’s third pass of the game, the ball bounced off junior fullback Jake Ebner’s shoulder and was intercepted by Owls defensive back Brandon King.
Rice converted the turnover into a touchdown to increase its lead to 40-28.
Alridge got the Cougars within five points on the next drive, scoring on an 8-yard touchdown run with 5:28 left in the third quarter.
Rice answered quickly, going up 48-35 on 7-yard touchdown run by running back Justin Hill.