HOUSTON (AP) -- Forty-five years later, Rice is headed back to a
As for SMU, its agonizing bowl drought may extend yet another
One year removed from suffering through a 14-game losing streak
and a 1-10 season, Rice capped a stunning turnaround Saturday with
a 31-27 win over SMU to secure its first bowl appearance since
Rice (7-5, 6-2 Conference USA) finished the season winning seven
of its last eight games after starting the year 0-4.
The Owls will find out after next week's Conference USA
championship game which bowl will be their first since losing to
Kansas in the Bluebonnet Bowl, their most recent of seven bowl
appearances in school history.
"I've won a lot of football games at a lot of places, but
there's something special going on at Rice right now," said
first-year Rice head coach Todd Graham. "Forty-five years is way
too long -- we've just begun."
As for SMU (6-6, 4-4), its bowl hopes remain alive but took a
big hit with the loss. The Mustangs were hoping to lock up their
first postseason appearance since the 1984 Aloha Bowl and the first
since receiving the so-called "death penalty" from the NCAA in
"There's always hope (for a bowl)," SMU athletic director
Steve Orsini said. "A lot of things have to happen. All of it is
out of our control. We have preached to our team all along to
control your own destiny."
Rice trailed 27-24 when Jarett Dillard caught the last of his
three touchdowns on a 25-yard strike from Joel Armstrong with 4:05
left. The Owls secured the win about three minutes later when SMU's
Justin Willis was intercepted by Bencil Smith at the Rice 4-yard
The Owls then ran down the remaining time and Rice fans stormed
the field to celebrate.
"The reason we win is the relationships we have," Graham said.
"Tough people come out of tough times. Perseverance builds
character, and we have great character."
Dillard, a Biletnikoff Award finalist, finished the season with
a Rice single-season record 82 receptions. His 46-yard touchdown
grab in the first quarter was his 12th consecutive game with a
That tied an NCAA single-season record and extended Dillard's
overall streak to 14 games dating back to last season. He trails
only former Pittsburgh star Larry Fitzgerald, who caught a
touchdown in 18 straight games.
After Rice opened a 17-0 lead on 38-yard Clark Fangmeier field
goal, the Mustangs quickly erased that deficit in the second
After Willis threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Columbus Givens,
Cedric Dorsey scored on a 5-yard run and defensive tackle Brandon
Bonds recovered a fumble in the end zone for a 21-17 SMU lead with
6:34 left before halftime.
Rice tied the game at 24-24 on a 20-yard Armstrong-to-Willis
touchdown pass. After SMU's Thomas Morstead kicked 25-yard field
goal with 6:16 left in the third, the game remained scoreless until
Rice put together an 8-play, 67-yard drive that produced Dillard's
Dillard finished with six catches for 145 yards.