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McCaffrey and the Owls edge Louisiana Tech 42-41 in overtime thriller

The Owls re-establish themselves as C-USA contenders after emerging on top in shootout fashion.

Rice v Houston Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

It turns out four quarters wasn’t enough time to settle a clash between two highly-functioning offenses in Ruston, LA.

Rice and Louisiana Tech both entered Saturday’s contest situated at 1-1 in conference play, clearly desperate to maintain their stature in a crowded C-USA race. But after an extra period was added, the Owls emerged as the victor. Juma Otoviano rushed in a 4-yard touchdown to initiate the scoring in overtime. Although Louisiana Tech answered, the Bulldogs elected to go for the win on a 2-point attempt, but Landry Lyddy’s fade route sailed into uncatchable territory out of bounds. That throw ensured Rice a 42-41 victory to lock up the Owls’ first road win since Oct. 23, 2021.

Although staying ready is an important concept for all college football players, Lyddy wasn’t expected to field snaps in this game. The third-string quarterback sat behind Parker McNeil and Matthew Downing on the depth chart, but both Big 12 transfer QBs left the game with injuries. One play after Downing left due to an injury sustained from a sack, Lyddy delivered. He sent a delivery into the front right corner of the end zone to a place only Cyrus Allen could catch it, and the receiver made an acrobatic grab. Needing a 2-point conversion for the tie, Lyddy threw a similar fade route to the right side of the end zone where Tre Harris utilized his right hand to make a spectacular catch.

The third-string quarterback then tested these fade routes in overtime toward the left side of the field. While Harris corralled one for an 18-yard touchdown, his overthrow on the ensuing fade pattern ultimately sealed the win for Rice.

For Rice’s offense, it was a much-needed bounce back performance by quarterback TJ McMahon. The junior from California shook off a 10-of-28, 3-interception performance in the prior week and guided the Owls to victory in a game where the offense needed to thrive to win. McMahon tossed three touchdown passes and fired for 208 yards on a 16-of-27 showing. His rapport with his roommate Luke McCaffrey was on full display, as the quarterback-turned-wide receiver tied his career-high with 10 catches and set a new personal best with 171 yards — while adding 31 rushing yards on the side. McCaffrey pulled his weight for three touchdowns — including two which kept Rice within striking distance when Louisiana Tech held 10-point advantages.

It was the second consecutive season where the Owls erased a double-digit deficit to upend the Bulldogs. Louisiana Tech fully controlled the first quarter and entered the following stanza with a 10-0 lead. It was a game of call-and-response until the early fourth quarter when the Rice offense started cooking with gas. McMahon turned a designed QB run into a 64-yard touchdown and then McCaffrey scored in the wildcat formation from 17 yards out to hand Rice a 35-27 lead with roughly four minutes remaining.

Although Louisiana Tech forced overtime on an 11-play, 75-yard drive, Rice’s offense sustained the firepower it needed for overtime to win. The overtime touchdown was courtesy of Otoviano, a member of head coach Mike Bloomgren’s first recruiting class in 2018, who saw his most significant action in 2022. The senior running back contributed a season-high 56 rushing yards in the victory while another super senior, Cameron Montgomery, notched 87 yards. With a collective 282 rushing yards on a 6.3 average, it was by far the most productive ground performance of the year for Rice.

Louisiana Tech won the turnover battle as two first half fumbles plagued the Owls’ early offense, but the Bulldogs were not able to rely on a more sustainable method of generating stops to maintain their early lead. Louisiana Tech operated without starting inside linebacker and leading tackler Tyler Grubbs, and his presence was severely missed in the front seven as Rice posted 490 yards on the evening to out-gain Louisiana Tech by over 100 in the category.

The Bulldogs are close to the brink of the bowl eligibility threshold as their overall record diminished to 2-5 after the heartbreaking 1-point loss. Under the direction of first-year head coach Sonny Cumbie, Louisiana Tech’s nicked-up roster hopes for increased health and a more favorable result when visiting FIU next Friday night.

Meanwhile, Rice’s spectacular start to 2022 continues. By defeating Louisiana Tech for the second consecutive year, the Owls matched their most wins they’ve attained since 2016 while also approaching the doorstep of bowl eligibility. Rice holds the longest bowl drought in the C-USA, but the Owls can take one step closer to shattering that unwanted trend next week when hosting a 1-7 Charlotte squad.