On Saturday, Rice Football went toe-to-toe with Louisiana, outlasting the Ragin’ Cajuns and earning a signature win for head coach Mike Bloomgren and the Owls.
As Rice football quarterback TJ McMahon walked away from the podium on Saturday night following a monumental victory over Louisiana, he voiced one final exclamation, “Rice Fight!”
Over the years, I’ve been to many postgame press conferences. To the best of my memory, things have never ended that way.
To be fair, Rice football had never won a game quite like this one, snapping the nation’s longest winning streak in the process. As 12-point underdogs, Rice had won by exactly 12 points. And it probably could have been even more one-sided.
But as for McMahon’s exhortation, that was new. Part of the reason for that, unfortunately, has been the somber nature of many of those gatherings. Even in the Owls’ better games, things had gone the wrong way on the scoreboard more times than any of the blue-and-gray-clad faithful might have hoped. Postgame gatherings didn’t often end in celebration. And even the victories offered less fanfare.
Now entering Year 5 of head coach Mike Bloomgren’s tenure, there might be no more fitting words to describe what happened at Rice Stadium on Saturday night than “Rice fight”.
In his second career start, quarterback TJ McMahon tossed three interceptions, all of which came before halftime. The Owls squandered a redzone possession late in the first half and entered the break trailing by one. Then we saw Rice fight.
Rice football came out of halftime and scored the go-ahead touchdown. Then the defense, which had only given up one score to this point, blanked Louisiana in the third quarter. Leading 19-14 entering the fourth quarter, the Owls were on the verge of something special.
“We know we can stick around. We know we can play with anybody,” corner Jordan Dunbar said about an hour later following the postgame festivities. “We gotta finish.”
His words proved true. After Rice took a two-score lead at the beginning of the final quarter, Louisiana drove the length of the field and saw running back Chris Smith thunder into the endzone from 22-yards out. One defensive stop and the Ragin’ Cajuns would have the ball down by six, one touchdown away from ruining the Owls’ celebrations. The outcome of the game hung in the balance. Right fought.
McMahon and company responded with a 10-play, 70-yard touchdown drive that took 6:14 off the clock. Rice kicked the ball back to Louisiana leading by two scores with less than three minutes to play. The defense made one more stop, then it was over. Rice had fought and Rice had won.
“There’s been some great wins in this program since we’ve been around,” head coach Mike Bloomgren couldn’t help but reminisce afterward. “Whether it’s beating Marshall [on the road] in ‘20 or beating UAB at their place last year, the first time they’ve lost at home [since the program restarted]. We’ve done some cool things, but to do this in our third game of the 2022 season… it feels great.”
More succinctly, Bloomgren began his remarks this way: “That’s a big-time win for our program.”
It’s a big-time win for a myriad of reasons.
First, Rice has now won a game as a double-digit underdog in each of the last three seasons. Second, Rice is now 2-1 for the first time under Bloomgren and four games away from win number six and a trip to the program’s first bowl berth since 2014.
But most importantly, it’s because of the effort it took from the collective group of coaches, players, administrators and support staff to get Rice football to this place.
“I felt like we didn’t doubt we were going to win today and that’s why the locker room was really fun today,” Dunbar said. “That was my favorite win, personally.”
The Rice defense held Louisiana to 175 yards of total offense, that’s the Ragin’ Cajun’s worst offensive output since September 9, 2011 against Kent State, more than a decade ago. This was a program that had won nine or more games eight times in the last 12 seasons and been bowling 10 times over that span. They’d become accustomed to being the bully. Then Rice knocked them down a notch, or maybe wo.
“Obviously we would love to be 3-0,” Bloomgren said in his closing comments. “But for the steps this program has taken and for the quality of this win and what it means for our team. Just to be in that locker room and see them celebrate the way they did and know they earned it, and they earned it from the work they put in all week. It’s really cool. So yeah, I’ll take win number two right now.”
Subscribe on Patreon for exclusive Rice football recruiting updates, practice notes and more.