Panthers fall against defending conference champs

Jorge Corrales/Staff Writer

The defending Conference-USA champion Rice Owls visited “The Cage”, Saturday afternoon, and left with a 31-17 victory. The win was their fifth in a row; putting them at 5-3. The loss for the Panthers was their third in a row; putting them at 3-6 overall and 2-3 in C-USA.

“Some individuals did some really good things today.” said Head Coach Ron Turner. ‘We didn’t do anything well as a team. In this game, you win as a team.”

The Panthers got off to a slow start. After receiving the opening kickoff, freshman quarterback Alex McGough was sacked and fumbled. The Owls recovered the ball on the FIU 19-yard line. They punched it in on the very next play on a 19-yard run by running back Jowan Davis. Following a 40-yard field goal, Owls quarterback Driphus Jackson connected with wide receiver Jordan Taylor for a 63-yard touchdown pass and catch. The score gave the Owls a 17-0 first quarter lead.

The Panthers answered the early onslaught with two consecutive touchdowns of their own. The first was a 52-yard connection between McGough and wide receiver Glenn Coleman to get them on the board. The second was an 11-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Napoleon Maxwell. The score was the first of Maxwell’s career.

The Owls responded with their second long score of the afternoon; this one a 69-yard touchdown strike from Jackson to receiver James Mayden. Busted coverage deep in the secondary contributed to the score. Kicker Austin Taylor added a 22-yard field goal for the Panthers; making it a 24-17 affair at the half.

After a scoreless third quarter, the Owls struck back with an early fourth quarter touchdown. Running back Luke Turner took the direct snap and ran it in from one yard out. The 31-17 score held up as the final.

McGough never really got going after his early fumble. He finished the game 8 of 19 through the air with 132 yards and 1 touchdown. Junior QB E.J. Hilliard entered the game with seven minutes left in the fourth and stayed in for the remainder of the quarter. Hilliard was 2 of 4 for 27 yards through the air.

Coleman had a monster first half with 2 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. He disappeared after that, however, having zero catches in the second half. Tight end Jonnu Smith led all Panthers with five catches on the afternoon.

“I worked on my release in practice and in the game it showed ,” said Coleman. “In the second half, we were trying to get other things going but it didn’t work out.

Running backs Anthon Samuel and Maxwell split carries; taking the place of the injured freshman Alex Gardner. Samuel finished with 34 yards on 11 carries while Maxwell had 88 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown.

“I did what I could out there today,” said Maxwell. “I still feel I could’ve done better to help the team. I appreciate my O-Line, quarterback and receivers. They really helped me out today.”

The Panthers defense relied on turnovers all season. They entered the game with an FBS leading 25 forced turnovers. They forced zero turnovers on Saturday.

“I’m disappointed in the football team for not playing anywhere close to the way we’re capable of playing,” said Turner. “I know exactly why. I’m not gonna share it with anybody. I’ll share it with the team.”

On Nov. 8, the Panthers will travel up to Norfolk, Virginia to take on the Monarchs of Old Dominion University. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m.

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