Houston, TX (Sports Network) - Vance McDonald's 13-yard TD catch with 4:24 remaining in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference as the Rice Owls picked up the 34-31 win over the Houston Cougars in Conference USA play at Rice Stadium.
McDonald finished the day with six grabs for 37 yards for the Owls (2-5, 1-2 CUSA) as they registered just their second win of the season. Quarterback Nick Fanuzzi converted 14-of-21 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns in the triumph as well.
The Cougars (3-3, 2-1) were paced by David Piland who hit on 23-of-45 passes for 282 yards and three TDs. Running back Bryce Beall added a game-high 109 yards and scored once on 24 rushing attempts for the visitors as well.
Rice opened the game with a pair of touchdowns, first a one-yard rushing effort by Jeremy Eddington and then a 29-yard passing strike from Fanuzzi to Luke Willson. However, the PAT following the initial score failed and that left the Owls with a 13-0 advantage.
Late in the first period Houston responded when Piland combined with Patrick Edwards on a 10-yard passing score to cut the deficit to 13-7. Edwards finished the meeting with nine catches for a game-high 169 yards and three touchdowns.
The second quarter began much like the first as Rice tallied a pair of scores, beginning with a one-yard TD run by Turner Petersen to make the score 20-7. Fanuzzi then connected with Randy Kitchens on a 59-yard scoring play to push the advantage to 27-7.
Before the end of the first half Piland hooked up with Edwards again, this time from 38 yards away to make the score 27-14. Early in the third period Piland and the Cougars managed to move the ball a full 99 yards on 10 plays, culminating with a 49-yard scoring strike to Edwards again to cut the deficit to 27-21.
Beall finished off another lengthy drive by Houston later in the quarter with a one-yard TD run to put the visitors ahead by a score of 28-27. At the 8:55 mark of the fourth Matt Hogan knocked through a 37-yard field goal for the Cougars to complete a 24-point scoring run and provide Houston with a 31-27 advantage.
On the ensuing drive Rice worked the ball down the field 57 plays on 11 plays, finishing off the day's scoring with the McDonald TD catch to provide the home team with the thrilling victory.
Rice, which controlled the ball for more than 20 minutes in the first half, won despite coming away with just 344 yards of total offense.