DENTON, Texas -- Backup quarterback Nick Fanuzzi sparked a sputtering Rice offense, leading the Owls to a 32-31 win over North Texas in a sloppy, back-and-forth game Saturday at Fouts Field.
Fanuzzi, who went 12-for-23 for 189 yards and a touchdown, helped orchestrate the game-winning drive midway through the fourth quarter. Running back Charles Ross scored from 2 yards out to put Rice up for good.
"We were having a hard time running the ball," Rice coach David Bailiff said. "Nick has a little more velocity on the ball. It was time for a change."
Fanuzzi entered the game for Rice (1-1) late in the second quarter, partly because Rice's offense struggled and partly because starter Taylor McHargue suffered a shoulder stinger late in the second quarter.
North Texas (0-2) had an opportunity to take the lead in the final minutes, but quarterback Nathan Tune suffered a dislocated hip on a hard hit on the drive, which ended in a turnover on downs at midfield.
The loss of their quarterback added injury to insult for the Mean Green, who never found a rhythm because of penalties, drops, turnovers and miscues.
"We just made too many mistakes to win that football game -- in all three phases," said North Texas head coach Todd Dodge. "I'm disappointed because it's a game we should have won."
Rice jumped out to an early 10-0 lead when McHargue hit Sam McGuffie for a 51-yard touchdown on the Owls' first play from scrimmage. Rice added a field goal after recovering a UNT fumble on the first playing following Rice's touchdown.
UNT managed to cut into Rice's lead thanks to strong defensive play that limited the damage from three first-half turnovers and a blocked punt.
Lance Dunbar got North Texas on the board with a 4-yard reception from Tune, who also threw a touchdown to Jamaal Jackson in the second quarter that kept the Mean Green on Rice's heels.
The Owls couldn't collect more than field goals despite fantastic field position throughout the first half, but Fanuzzi threw a 22-yard touchdown to Luke Willson to give Rice a 23-14 lead on the first possession after McHargue left the game.
The Owls took a 23-21 lead into halftime after UNT linebacker Jeremy Phillips intercepted Fanuzzi in the end zone in the waning seconds of the half.
After the horrible start, North Texas (0-2) took a 28-23 lead on its opening possession of the second half when Tyler Stadford caught a 75-yard pass from Tune, but the Mean Green managed only 3 more points for the rest of the game.
Jeff Andrews covers college football for ESPNDallas.com.