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Rice spoils Edwards' 67th birthday

Brigham Young University football coach LaVell Edwards celebrated his 67th birthday Saturday, starting with a private breakfast with former coaches - including ex-Houston coach Bill Yeoman - and an afternoon viewing of Air Force's 10-7 victory over Navy with some three-dozen Cougar boosters in a hotel sports bar, making it the day's driest spot in downpour-drenched Houston. It wouldn't be the only time Edwards would watch a successful option attack.

Come Saturday evening, 21st-ranked BYU watched a three-headed option monster - the Owl trio of Perry, Wood and Nelson, which sounds more like a Houston team of legal eagles - lead Rice to a 27-14 Western Athletic Conference victory at Rice Stadium.Talk about getting a birthday bashed.

"We were not in sync all night long on either side of the line," said Edwards, whose team not only falls to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the league but will take another tumble tonight when the Top-25 polls are announced. "I'm concerned about the rest of our sea-son."

Meanwhile, the Cougars' own three-headed monster - quarterbacks Kevin Feterik, Paul Shoemaker and Drew Miller, guiding a Y. passing offense that came into the game as the WAC's top aerial attack - came out with monstrous results. Make that nightmarish.

Feterik started and played well in the first half on a gimpy right ankle - injured last week against Utah State - but the sophomore southpaw couldn't manage much in two short-lived, ineffective cameo appearance in the second.

Shoemaker got a vote of confidence from coaches as he started the second half, but his only completion out of five attempts and three possessions in the second half was an up-for-grabs heave that went to Rice safety Cory Brabham.

And Miller, the heralded freshman, came in for one play late in the final period and promptly lost 12 yards while being sacked for a safety by Owl nose guard Judd Smith.

Feterik is ineffective on one wheel. Shoemaker seemed lost a week after his game-winning heroics against Utah State. And Miller - is he a temporary fix with a long-range future? "We are thinking seriously about using him, and we'll have to address that this coming week," said Edwards.

All told, BYU could muster only nine yards and 21 plays in seven second-half possessions - against a porous Rice defense that was affording opponents 434 yards and 32 points a game.

The Cougars couldn't capitalize on two fourth-quarter fumbles by Rice, a pair of PAT kicks and a missed field goal by the Owls and the fact that the day's downpour - which had turned Rice Stadium's artificial turf into a veritable Slip-And-Slide - had stopped by the second half.

Also halted was another reign - BYU's dominance in the WAC. "We need to regroup and get together," said Edwards. "Even if we win now, we have to wait. Rice is in the driver's seat."

Added cornerback Omarr Morgan: "Rice controls its own destiny. They took it to us."

Rice followers had entered the game with hopes of a strong showing against the defending WAC champs, who had manhandled the Owls 49-0 last year. A strong showing might impress officials from lower-tier bowls by the name of Independence (Shreveport, La.), Motor City (Detroit) and something called the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise.

Now, with a 2-1 league record (4-2 overall), a resounding victory over a Top 25 team and a front-runner's spot in the WAC Mountain Division standings, the Owls can be thinking of possibly qualifying for WAC-afforded bowls like the Holiday, Copper or Las Vegas.

How strong a showing did Rice want to make? Consider the Owls went for a first down on fourth-and-inches . . . in the first half . . . on their own 15 . . . with the lead.

Rice can thank "The Big Three" - what the locals call the trio that lad the Owl rushing attack and are among the nation's top 30 rushers.

Fullback Benji Wood rushed 27 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns; tailback Michael Perry picked up 132 yards and another score on 22 carries; and quarterback Chad Nelson collected just 52 yards on 22 carries but completed 2-of-3 passing for 109 yards, just six shy of his career best.

Nursing a 16-14 halftime lead, the Owls scored a touchdown on their first possession of the second half on a 45-yard counter by Perry for a 22-14 lead. Rice added a 30-yard field goal by Scott Grimes late in the third period and shut down BYU on the scoreboard and on the field through the half for the victory.

Other than giving up the nine second-half points, the BYU defense - on the field for much of the final two quarters - forced two fumbles, recovered by Byron Frisch and Issiah Magalei.

Rice won the battle of the WAC's top rushing and passing offenses, as the Owls finished with 493 yards total offense - 384 on the ground. BYU managed just 164 yards passing - nearly half of its 321.5-yard average - and couldn't deploy tailback Brian McKenzie much in the second half.

"I don't know what happened," said McKenzie, who finished with 94 yards on 16 carries, with only six carries for 13 yards in the second half. "I guess they wanted to go more to the passing game."

And the passing game never got going - a collective 1-of-11 for five yards and an interception in the second half.

Rice opened the game with a methodical option attack, going 67 yards in nine positive-yardage plays on the three bread-and-butter plays of Wood diving through the middle, Nelson keeping around the end and Perry slashing on the counter. Wood scored from one yard out, with Grimes missing the PAT for a 6-0 lead after just 4 minutes and 32 seconds.

The Cougars coughed up the ball on their second play, which set up a Grimes' 23-yard field goal.

BYU drew within 9-7 late in the opening quarter on a 70-yard bomb from Feterik to Aaron Roderick and Owen Pochman's PAT. But Rice went back up 16-7 early in the second quarter on a 30-yard ramble by Wood for his 10th TD of the season.

BYU answered on the following series, with three Feterik passes helping the Cougars march to Owl 40. Rice opted for an outside blitz, and McKenzie blasted and burned his way through the middle for a 40-yard score, with Pochman's conversion making it 16-14 with 13:07 before intermission.

The two teams traded punts, with BYU forcing Rice to start on its own 6 with three minutes to play. Ken Hatfield opted to go for a first down on a fourth-and-inches on the Owl 15, and the Rice coach pulled a daring play from the Texas playbook as Nelson passed to tight end Byron Godfrey for a 76-yard pass before Ben Cook ran the Rice tight end out of bounds at the Y. 9.

But Rice couldn't go the rest of the way in the final two minutes, and Grimes' 32-yard attempt missed on the last play of the half.

NOTES: Pochman missed a 41-yard field-goal attempt midway in the fourth period . . . A crowd of 23,814 watched Rice win its first home game of the season . . . Linebackers Brad Martin and Rob Morris were in on a team-high 10 tackles each, while Darren Yancey, Spencer Reid and Martin collected the Cougars' three sacks . . . BYU hosts Hawaii next week . . . The Cougars are still without an interception through five games.