Cougars fall to Owls 56-42 in Battle for Bayou Bucket
The Cougar football team’s dream of making its second trip to the Conference USA Championship game in three years was dashed as the Rice Owls defeated Houston 56-42 before 35,534 at Rice Stadium on Saturday.
Houston entered the game in a three-way tie with Rice and Tulsa for first place in C-USA West. The Cougars (7-5, 6-2 C-USA) would have clinched a berth to the championship game with a victory over the Owls (9-3, 7-1 C-USA).
Tulsa beat Marshall 38-35 in Huntington, W.V. to earn their second consecutive trip to the C-USA title game on Dec. 6.
The Owls entered halftime with a 35-21 lead after two receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown from sophomore tight end James Casey.
Casey finished with 182 all-purpose yards, caught three touchdown passes and added another on the ground. Rice senior quarterback Chase Clement had 381 yards and five touchdowns on 28-of-41 passing against the Cougars.
Keenum (494 yards on 30-of-54 passing) was intercepted by Rice senior linebacker Brian Raines with 13:02 left in the first half to give the Owls the ball on Houston’s 11-yard line, setting up an easy Owl scoring drive to put Rice up by two touchdowns with 11:56 left in the half.
The Owls extended their lead to 35-14 with 5:26 to go before halftime, but Houston closed the gap to 14 when Keenum found sophomore wide receiver Kierrie Johnson from 3 yards out with 1:06 left in the half. Johnson led the Cougars with 142 yards and a touchdown on six catches.
The Owls continued their onslaught in the second half, outscoring Houston 14-7 in the third quarter and taking their biggest lead of the game when Casey found junior tight end Taylor Wardlow from three yards to put the score at 56-28 early in the fourth quarter.
Keenum found redshirt freshman wide receiver Tyron Carrier and sophomore wide receiver L.J Castile (5 catches for 144 yard and 3 TDs) in the fourth quarter for two scores, but it wasn’t enough for Houston to complete the comeback as the Owls reclaimed the Bayou Bucket for the first time in four years.