Rice intercepts Warrior attack
by Jose Luis Cubria
thresher editorial staff
For five painful weeks, the Rice football team wondered when things would finally come together. The Owls knew they were a good football team - or at least they kept telling themselves they were - but they had yet to play like one.
in focus: football
WAC record: 1-3 (6th)
Most recently: Defeated the University of Hawaii 38-13 Saturday at Rice Stadium.
What made the difference: Linebacker Dan Dawson grabbed three interceptions and quarterback Corey Evans rushed for 85 yards in the win.
Up next: The Owls travel to Fort Worth tomorrow to play undefeated, 11th-ranked Texas Christian University. Kickoff is at 2:05 p.m.
Until Saturday, that is.
Two Rice juniors - linebacker Dan Dawson and quarterback Corey Evans - delivered three big plays apiece last weekend to lead the Owls to a 38-13 win over Western Athletic Conference foe University of Hawaii.
The win, which came in front of 22,521 at Rice Stadium, snapped Rice's five-game losing streak and upped the Owls' record to 2-5 overall and 1-3 in the WAC.
More importantly, it was the first time all year the Owls felt they had played a complete game.
"I don't think there's any doubt that this was the game where we came together," head coach Ken Hatfield said. "I think in all parts of the game we improved. We want to finish strong and play our best, and we took a big step forward last week because we did play our best game of the year."
The Rice defense - and Dawson in particular - paved the way. Dawson, named the WAC Defensive Player of the Week, came up with a school-record tying three interceptions on the afternoon as the Owls held Hawaii's explosive run-and-shoot offense to just 237 total yards.
Dawson's efforts also put him in some good company in the Rice record books. His three interceptions tied a school record held by five other people, including Owl legend Dicky Maegle.
For Dawson, finally playing up to his own exacting standards was a relief, especially coming off a season-ending leg injury last year.
"I've been struggling a little bit," Dawson said. "I don't know what it was. ... I've been playing hard, but sometimes you just don't get the breaks. Maybe I'm starting to get them now. I hope so."
Overall, Rice intercepted five passes and completely neutralized the Warriors' ability to hit deep passes. But Hatfield said the most important number of all was Hawaii's rushing yards, a lowly 10.
"You always hear me harping on stopping the running game, and they didn't make a lot," Hatfield said. "They didn't try to run the ball much, but when they did they didn't run it well. So when you're one-dimensional and you're just going to keep throwing the ball every down, the whole key is to come up with the interceptions."
Junior defensive back Kenny Smith had his first career interception and junior safety Jason Hebert added one of his own.
Hebert's was especially important because he had missed two games with two separate groin injuries. At one point, it was believed that Hebert would miss the rest of the season, so he was understandably thrilled to be back on the field Saturday.
"Standing on the sidelines watching games is the worst feeling in the world," Hebert said. "It's just so hard to watch your teammates giving everything they have when you can't do anything to help their cause besides yell and cheer. Just to be able to put the pads back on, I feel so lucky."
The Rice offense probably felt pretty lucky following the game as well. Four of the five interceptions led directly to Rice touchdowns, and the Owls had to travel an average of just 35 yards per drive to find the end zone.
"Time and time again, the defense got the ball back for us and we were able to capitalize on Hawaii's mistakes," Evans said. "We knew going in that Hawaii would be a good team. We wanted to make a statement the first time we got the ball, and we did that."
Rice amassed season highs in points (38) and rushing yards (315), and Evans led the charge. He was personally responsible for three of the touchdowns, including two running and one throwing, as the Owls built an insurmountable 28-3 halftime lead.
"The offense really played well in the first half," Hatfield said. "Overall, it was probably the best half of football that we've played since we've been here. Ever. That was encouraging, and we needed it."
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