MTSU's football team dug a hole too big to climb out of against Rice Saturday afternoon, and the Owls earned their first win of the season Blue 31-28 at Floyd Stadium.
“I am really disappointed with performance on both offense and defense,” MTSU Rick Stockstill said. “We gave them opportunities, including a fumble on the first play that was the difference of the game.”
Things turned south early with a Blue Raider fumble in their own territory that Rice quickly turned into a 42-yard field goal.
Brad Rozner, a 6-5 wide receiver, created matchup problems all afternoon, scoring on consecutive drives to lead the Owls to a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
“It does not matter if he is 6-5 or 7-5, we need to make plays and find ways to defend," Stockstill said. "It was just a poor performance."
MTSU's offense found its stride near the end of the half, scoring on consecutive drives. Blue Raider quarterback Asher O’Hara threw for one touchdown and ran for another during that span.
Ty Lee was on the receiving end of the passing touchdown of 90 yards, moving the senior to a tie for first in career receiving touchdowns in school history at 23.
“I will look back on it later and be happy about it,” Lee said. “Right now, at the end of the day, we lost and that is what I am worried about.”
Rozner upped the Owls lead to 31-14 after catching touchdown pass number three before the break.
The Blue Raiders reinserted themselves back into the game with a stingy second half defense holding the Owls to 115 yards of offense.
In return, O’Hara found pay dirt with his second rushing touchdown with four minutes left in the third quarter. The QB led a six-play drive with his final three attempts going to junior Jimmy Marshall, including a 20-yard touchdown with 3:22 left to cut the deficit to 31-28. Marshall set a new career highs with seven catches for 112 yards.
“They gave us a lot of man coverage and Asher put the ball where it needed to be for us to make plays,” Marshall said. “We had a change of mindset (in the second half). Coach Stock got into us and we took it on the chin and played a better half.”
Unfortunately, that would not be enough to pull the Raiders back into it. Rice punted back to MTSU with 16 seconds remaining, allowing enough time for a miracle attempt that inevitably fell short and giving the Owls their first win of the season.