FORT WORTH, Texas -- Rice backup quarterback Driphus Jackson led a second-half comeback that sprung Rice to a 33-14 victory Saturday afternoon over Air Force in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
The Owls (7-6) scored 26 unanswered points with Jackson at signal caller after starter Taylor McHargue left in the first half with a possible head injury. McHargue took a helmet-to-helmet hit in the second quarter and didn't re-enter the game.
"It was a hard-fought victory today," Rice coach David Bailiff said.
The Falcons, in the midst of a school-record six straight bowl trips, dropped to 6-7. Air Force couldn't take advantage of three lost Rice fumbles in their fourth trip to the Armed Forces Bowl. The Falcons had three turnovers, two in the second half.
"It's not the way we wanted it to end and when you have guys that care and you have guys that have an awful lot of pride," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "We wanted it to conclude with a different result. The difference in the game was clearly in the second half, stating the obvious there. They really took control in the second half of all three phases and thought their offense did a super job."
Jackson completed 15-of-21 passes for 254 yards, including a bowl-record 154 yards in the third quarter. Rice sophomore receiver Jordan Taylor caught three touchdown passes, two from Jackson and another from McHargue.
"These guys made it easy for me -- made two spectacular catches and the defense got the stops," Jackson said. "It was a team effort and I can't take all the credit."
Taylor, with nine catches for 153 yards, was named the game's MVP.
"I'm just ready and when they need me to make a play I do my best to try to do that," Taylor said. "I thought Driphus did an excellent job of coming in when Taylor got hurt and stepped up and made a lot of plays."
The Owls forced the first turnover, as defensive end Jared Williams stripped Air Force running back Jon Lee. Rice safety Gabe Baker recovered the loose ball on the Owls' 43.
McHargue engineered a 57-yard touchdown drive that featured his 27-yard scramble, a 15-yard pass interference call and his 16-yard scoring pass to Taylor with 4:05 left in the first quarter.
McHargue gave the ball back early in the second quarter after Air Force defensive lineman Nick DeJulio punched the ball free. Falcons defensive lineman Cody Miller covered it on the Rice 44.
Air Force couldn't do anything with the gift, giving the ball back on downs after failing to convert a fake punt.
The Falcons did get back into the game later in the second, tying it at 7-7. A 10-play, 66-yard drive was capped by quarterback Kale Pearson's 9-yard sprint around the right side with 6:14 left before the half.
Another lost fumble by McHargue helped Air Force to take its first lead, 14-7. Running back Wes Cobb bowled in from one yard out at 2:32 mark to complete a 35-yard march.
McHargue didn't return for the next possession. Jackson directed a march down to the Air Force 2, but his bad pitch turned it over again and the Owls came away with no points and seven-point deficit at the break.
"We knew their starter was a little bit hurt so we knew the possibility if he went down, No. 6 would come in," Falcons senior linebacker Alex Means said of Jackson. "They can both pull stuff up and move. I wouldn't say we expected it but we were prepared, I would say, the best we could be. I would say he played a pretty good game."
Jackson didn't let the turnover keep him down. He led an 87-yard touchdown drive in eight plays early in the third quarter to knot the game at 14-14. Jackson hit Taylor from 22 yards out with 9:30 left in the period.
The Owls took the lead for good on a 2-yard touchdown run by running back Charles Ross less than a minute into the fourth. Two field goals by Chris Bowell followed before Jackson and Taylor hooked up from 34 yards out.
The 10th annual Armed Forces Bowl returned to Fort Worth after a two-year stay in Dallas, as a massive $164-million renovation took place at Amon G. Carter Stadium. The announced attendance was 40,754.
Notes: Air Force made its fourth appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl, falling to 1-3. The Falcons are 10-12-1 all-time in bowl games. ... Rice played a bowl game in Fort Worth for the first time, but it was the fifth visit to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for the postseason. The previous four games were Cotton Bowls. The Owls are 6-4 in bowl games. ... Air Force leads the series against Rice 5-2. ... Air Force set a bowl record with three fumble recoveries in the second quarter.