A Cole Thomas forced fumble followed by a 60-yard Ryan Pollard interception return for a touchdown incited the Rice Owls to a second half mauling of North Texas on Saturday.
The 41-21 victory was Rice’s fourth win a row, completing the team’s first unbeaten October since 1960. The Owls scored exactly 41 points in three of those four wins, and including coincidently beating Army by the same 41-21 score on Oct. 11.
The Owls (4-3) outscored UNT 27-0 and outgained the Mean Green 231 to 45 in the second half Saturday at Rice Stadium.
A North Texas (2-6) fumble on the second half kickoff led to a James Farrimond 27-yard field goal to cut the Owls deficit to 21-17. Pollard’s pick-six with 10:30 left in the third quarter put Rice up for good. It’s the Owls first interception return for a score since the second game of the 2013 season.
“Any time I get the ball (on a pick), I tell myself in my head that I’m taking it all the way back,” Pollard said in a news release. “I knew in the back of my head that I was going to take it all the way back and give us a spark and get us going.”
Rice also had some big plays offensively, starting with the first snap from scrimmage of the game. Quarterback Driphus Jackson hit Jordan Taylor on a 88-yard touchdown toss to delight the home fans. The strike tied the longest score in school history.
Rice’s Darik Dillard ripped off a 35-yard fourth quarter run on his way to an 80-yard game. The Owls gained 188 yards on ground, while UNT managed just 26 rushing yards. Stopping the run on early downs, helped forced many third and long situations. The Mean Green’s average yards to gain on third down was 9.6.
The Owls also sacked UNT quarterback Andrew McNulty four times, three of which were for double-digit losses. Christian Covington accounted for 17 yards loss on 1.5 sacks.
“We knew, especially the defensive line, that we had to be difference-makers in this game,” Covington said. “We knew that North Texas was going to give us everything they had. We knew it was going to be a battle in the trenches.”
North Texas coach Dan McCarney called his team’s second-half performance really disappointing.
“You have to make plays, you’ve got to rise up, and Rice did and we didn’t,” he said.
The Owls improved to 2-1 in Conference USA games. Rice is tied with UTEP for second in the C-USA West. Both are looking up at 4-0 Louisiana Tech. The Owls are attempting to stay within one game of La Tech, before the teams meet to close the season in Ruston on Nov. 29.
The Owls have a game every weekend before then, including home tilts against state rivals UTSA and UTEP. The team flies to Miami to take on Florida International (3-5, 2-2) at 11 a.m. Saturday.