Even Rice didn’t come into this game expecting a win.
In the first quarter, after an eight play drive, the Rice Owls marched into their opponent’s territory and kicked a 48-yard field goal barely five minutes into the game. Ahead 3-0, they perhaps counted themselves lucky, but then they scored another 17 unanswered points, and the rout was on.
Three minutes after the field goal, Rice scored on a one-yard Aston Walter run, then added another ten points in the second half. UNT, meanwhile, had nothing, scoring zero points in the first half. Mason Fine finished the half two for seven passing.
In our preview, we looked at pros and cons and predicted a win for North Texas, because of course the mighty North Texas Mean Green (4-7, 3-4) had this. They had big wins over weaker opponents this season, including an equally futile UTEP. They had three bowl seasons in a row and a superstar quarterback. Rice came into the game 1-9. This was an open and shut case.
But there were signs: The Owls won a week ago over Middle Tennessee, a decent team despite their record. For another, Rice took Louisiana Tech to OT back on Sept. 28, a team that knocked North Texas in the mouth. Out of Rice’s multiple losses, in only two conference games did they give up over 30 points. This was a team better than its record, waiting to be underestimated.
And Vegas suspected too, giving Rice only 6.5 points.
Rice didn’t exactly play like a championship team, but they were better than their opponent this weekend. Their numbers, as a whole, weren’t spectacular— quarterback Tom Stewart finished 17 for 27 passing with 179 yards and no scores. The Owls’ two touchdowns were both on the ground, one from running back Charlie Booker (22 carries for 78 yards), and the first quarter run from Walter (two carries, seven yards, and a completed pass).
But the Owls executed where the Mean Green did not. The Owls defense held where the Mean Green’s has struggled all season. Fine finished with 163 yards on 17 of 32 passing, meaning he needed an uncharacteristic number of pass attempts to throw for fewer yards than his counterpart.
An injury would be the obvious explanation, but he was the only UNT quarterback to take a snap all game. Usual stalwart Tre Siggers wasn’t much better, finishing with 38 yards and a touchdown on 12 rushes.
The Mean Green finally showed some signs of life in the second half, finally getting into the end zone on a ten-yard run from Fine with 6:32 left in the third quarter.
UNT would score again midway through the fourth on a one-yard run from Siggers, but it would not be enough. The clock ran out and for the first time in Seth Littrell’s tenure in Denton, the Mean Green are sure to miss a bowl game.
Rice (2-9. 2-5) will put their two-game win-streak on the line next week and has a very good chance of extending it at UTEP next week in their final game of 2019.
For North Texas, a game scheduled in the off-season to define C-USA West will be for nothing but show, as they host UAB in what will likely be Mason Fine’s final game in a North Texas uniform. With luck, the same can be said for a lot of Littrell’s staff, as next season without Fine is suddenly looking dire indeed.