Texas used an early spark from new starting quarterback Jerrod Heard and a pair of huge punt returns from Daje Johnson and Duke Thomas to build a 21-0 lead through one quarter, but Rice stole momentum back in the second frame to pull within 21-14 at the break in Austin.
Rice’s rebound, oddly enough, started with an interception. Driphus Jackson hit Texas safety Jason Hall with an interception in the Owls’ end zone, but Hall fumbled the return and the Owls recovered at the Texas 35. Rice scored four plays later on a 22-yard Samuel Stewart run, and then added another Stewart run, this time a 16-yarder you’ll see on SportsCenter tonight, to climb within seven.
The Owls have churned the inside of Texas’ defense, rushing 30 times for 138 yards and those two Stewart scores. After converting one of their first four third downs, Rice moved the chains on seven of its final eight tries. Rice threatened to tie the game before the half, but Dylan Haines stepped in front of a Destri Jackson throw at the Texas goal line to end the threat.
Heard started fast, accounting for 78 yards on the Longhorns’ opening touchdown drive, but didn’t get many opportunities after that thanks to those two punt returns and a Rice offense that won’t give the ball back. He finished the half with 51 passing yards on 3-of-4 tries and seven carries for 50 yards. Johnathan Gray carried six times for 18 yards and a score.
Texas will receive to open the second half.