Driphus Jackson filled in for an injured Taylor McHargue quite admirably, as the freshman quarterback threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns to lead Rice in a 33-14 victory over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl.
McHargue went down with a head injury after taking a big hit late in the second quarter, and with an efficient Jackson connecting on 15-of-21 passes, the Owls reeled off 26 unanswered points in the second half to win going away.
"We came out at the second half and made a couple adjustments," Rice head coach David Bailiff said.
Jordan Taylor caught three touchdown passes after not catching any all year and finished with nine receptions for 153 yards for the Owls (7-6), who needed to win their final four games in the regular season to become bowl eligible.
"I thought Driphus did an excellent job of coming in when Connor got hurt and stepped up and made a lot of plays," Taylor said. "I think we just took advantage of matchups today and it worked out."
Rice, playing in its first bowl game since 2008, turned it over three times in the first half, but after the break played mistake-free and held the Falcons to just two first downs.
Connor Dietz and Kale Pearson each spent time under center in Air Force's stagnant offense. Pearson ran for a touchdown, but threw for just 44 yards with an interception on 2-of-8 attempts, while Dietz was 1-for-3 in the air.
"I thought we put on awful lot of strain on our defense today, an enormous amount of strain on our defense," Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun said. "A couple of times it involved field position. The other part is just the lack of first downs."
The Falcons (6-7) were outgained, 503-214, while running for only 166 yards -- roughly half their season average. They lost four of their last five games and ended with a losing record for the first time since 2006.
Jackson lost a fumble deep in Air Force territory just before halftime, but his performance in the second half was near perfect. On Rice's first possession of the third quarter, Jackson found Vance McDonald for a 25-yard gain on 3rd-and-8 and on the next play hit Taylor for 22 more yards. Two snaps later, he and Taylor connected again for 22 yards, this time for a touchdown.
Jackson completed passes on the final six plays of the third quarter for a total of 75 yards to set up Charles Ross' go-ahead 2-yard touchdown run in the opening minute of the fourth.
After a third straight three-and-out from Air Force, Turner Petersen broke several tackles on 48-yard jaunt down to the Air Force 7-yard line, and Chris Boswell's 24-yard field goal made it a 24-14 game with 11:18 remaining.
Boswell tacked on a 25-yarder later in the frame, and following an interception, Jackson went to Taylor one more time for a 34-yard TD.
Before getting knocked out of the game, McHargue and Taylor hooked up for a 16-yard score late in the first quarter.
Air Force punted twice, turned the ball over on downs and lost a fumble on its first four possessions with Dietz under center. The senior was benched early in the second quarter, and Pearson instantly provided a spark by guiding a 10- play, 66-yard drive that ended with the sophomore signal-caller keeping it himself on an option to the right and diving for a 9-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing touch, McHargue was smacked hard by Falcons cornerback Steffon Batts and lost the ball. Air Force recovered at the Rice 35-yard line, and after converting a fourth-down try, Air Force went ahead, 14-7, on Wes Cobb's 1-yard TD run.
Air Force came in second in the nation in rushing (328.8 yards per game) ... Ty MacArthur led the Falcons with 48 yards on nine carries, while Petersen had 81 yards on nine rushes ... Sam McGuffie caught five passes for 80 yards and in doing so became the first Owl to reach 1,000 career yards in both rushing and receiving ... Air Force is 10-12-1 all-time in bowl games ... Rice is 6-4 in postseason play ... Air Force was 5-1 against Rice coming in ... Both teams ranked in the top 10 in Academic Performance Rate, with Rice coming in at sixth and Air Force at No. 10.