It's Liberty Time For The Rice Owls
The Rice Owls went out Saturday on a cold, dreary afternoon and demolished the Marshall Thundering Herd, capturing the Conference USA title with a 41-24. Rice stormed out to the lead, didn't let up on the gas, and controlled the action for the entire 60 minutes of the game. It was the best game the Owls played this season, the best game they've played in several seasons, and now Rice is going to the Liberty Bowl.
Photo by John Royal Luke Turner, Jordan Taylor, David Bailiff, and Cody Bauer accepting Rice's invitation to the Liberty Bowl
It's the second bowl game in two seasons for the Owls, the first time they've accomplished this task in over 50 years. But it hasn't been easy, this winning 10 games in a season because the Owls were 1-5 at one point last season and it looked as if head coach David Bailiff might not make it back for this season, not before the Owls won six of their last seven games, won a bowl game, and Bailiff's vision for his team, his players, came into focus for all.
"I am so proud of this football team," Bailiff said after Saturday's game. "Each and every one of them. The 23 seniors. The 19 fifth year players. What makes those men so special is they never fragmented, they never cheated a day. They came here and worked hard through the bad times, through the good times. Their hard work and love for each other has paid off."
It would have been easy for those 23 players to quit on the team. Lots of fans and boosters did, especially those boosters who never brought into Bailiff or his plan, who thought they've could have, should have gotten better. Those boosters who think playing in Conference USA is a step down for a big time program, not realizing that Rice hasn't been a major powerhouse program since the 1950s.
But the players believed in Bailiff. They bought into his vision. They refused to quit on him. Refused to quit on their teammates, on the school. They knew there would be tough times. That it wouldn't be easy. Then came that closing streak last season, and the Armed Forces Bowl win. And then they really believed.
"Along the way, it's amazing when the chemistry happens, when the football team, when those around them are more important than themselves," Bailiff said of the players. "That happened to that class, where they were living for each other it truly became a family atmosphere where they loved each other. Chemistry and love make pretty good players when that happens."
"Coming in with the class that we did, there was never an option to quit," quarterback Taylor McHargue said. "You came in with these guys and they were suffering through the same things that I was suffering through, and it would be selfish to give into that kind of stuff....We also kept faith in Coach Bailiff's plan for our program."