DENTON, Texas -- Backup quarterback Nick Fanuzzi sparked a sputtering Rice offense, leading the Owls to a 32-31 win over North Texas in a sloppy, back-and-forth game Saturday at Fouts Field.
Fanuzzi, who went 12-for-23 for 189 yards and a touchdown, helped orchestrate the game-winning drive midway through the fourth quarter. Running back Charles Ross scored from 2 yards out to put Rice up for good.
"We were having a hard time running the ball," Rice coach David Bailiff said. "Nick has a little more velocity on the ball. It was time for a change."
Fanuzzi entered the game for Rice (1-1) late in the second quarter, partly because Rice's offense struggled and partly because starter Taylor McHargue suffered a shoulder stinger late in the second quarter.
North Texas (0-2) had an opportunity to take the lead in the final minutes, but quarterback Nathan Tune suffered a dislocated hip on a hard hit on the drive, which ended in a turnover on downs at midfield.
The loss of their quarterback added injury to insult for the Mean Green, who never found a rhythm because of penalties, drops, turnovers and miscues.
"We just made too many mistakes to win that football game -- in all three phases," said North Texas head coach Todd Dodge. "I'm disappointed because it's a game we should have won."
Rice jumped out to an early 10-0 lead when McHargue hit Sam McGuffie for a 51-yard touchdown on the Owls' first play from scrimmage. Rice added a field goal after recovering a UNT fumble on the first playing following Rice's touchdown.
UNT managed to cut into Rice's lead thanks to strong defensive play that limited the damage from three first-half turnovers and a blocked punt.
The Owls couldn't collect more than field goals despite fantastic field position throughout the first half, but Fanuzzi threw a 22-yard touchdown to Luke Willson to give Rice a 23-14 lead on the first possession after McHargue left the game.
The Owls took a 23-21 lead into halftime after UNT linebacker Jeremy Phillips intercepted Fanuzzi in the end zone in the waning seconds of the half.
After the horrible start, North Texas (0-2) took a 28-23 lead on its opening possession of the second half when Tyler Stadford caught a 75-yard pass from Tune, but the Mean Green managed only 3 more points for the rest of the game.
Jeff Andrews covers college football for ESPNDallas.com.