Owls hold off favored Golden Eagles in frantic finish

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) -- Jarett Dillard caught two touchdown passes, Andrew Sendejo intercepted two passes and Rice held off a fourth-quarter comeback to snap a four-game losing streak Wednesday night with a 31-29 victory over Southern Miss.

The Owls (1-4, 0-0 Conference USA) converted four of seven Golden Eagles turnovers into 24 points and batted down a 2-point conversion that would have tied the game late. Southern Miss (2-3, 1-1) was down by 24 with 10:30 left in the game, but scored two late touchdowns to cut the deficit to 31-29.

After forcing the Owls to punt, Southern Miss quarterback Stephen Reaves fumbled with about a minute left to end the comeback attempt.

It was the first win at Rice for new coach David Bailiff and the seventh straight conference win for the Owls, who won six consecutive league games to finish the regular season last year.

Southern Miss, the preseason favorite to win the conference, had its second straight lackluster performance in a televised midweek game after losing 38-16 last week at Boise State.

Both teams entered their first meeting with significant injuries. Rice was missing five starters, including both defensive ends. Southern Miss was down to its third-string quarterback, Martevious Young, after regular starter Jeremy Young, no relation, sprained his ankle last week against Boise State.

Martevious Young broke his ankle on the third play of the game and Reaves, who was not expected to play after straining an oblique muscle in his abdomen over the weekend, played the rest of the game.

Reaves finished with a record-tying four interceptions and two fumbles. Damion Fletcher led Southern Miss with 142 yards rushing and two touchdowns, but his third-quarter fumble set up Rice's last touchdown.

Defensive end Will Shoppa intercepted a Reaves pass to give the Owls first-and-goal at the Golden Eagles' 10 late in the first quarter. Three plays later Chase Clement hit Dillard with an 8-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead.

Southern Miss answered 35 seconds into the second quarter with a 5-yard touchdown run by Damion Fletcher on the next series. Rice took a 14-7 lead three plays later on a 54-yard run by backup tailback Justin Hill, who rushed for 100 yards filling in for starter C.J. Ugokwe.

Linebacker Brian Raines helped put the Owls up 21-7 when he sacked Reaves, forced a fumble and recovered it at the Golden Eagles' 12. Backup quarterback James Casey then ran the ball three straight times and scored from 2 yards out.

Rice extended its lead to 28-7 early in the third quarter off another Southern Miss turnover. Fletcher fumbled at the 26 and Clement found Dillard for a 7-yard touchdown pass three plays later.

Marcus Raines scored on a 2-yard touchdown run to make it 31-15 with 10:17 left in the game and Fletcher scored on a 15-yard run to make it 31-23 with 4:31 left. The Golden Eagles recovered the onside kick and Reaves hit Shaun Nelson with an 8-yard touchdown to bring Southern Miss within two.

But after stopping the 2-point conversion Jonathan Cary recovered Reaves' fumble to end the threat.