DENTON, Texas -- Antoinne Jimmerson had a long touchdown run and Brelan Chancellor returned a punt for a score in a 1:35 span in the second quarter in North Texas' 28-16 victory over Rice on Thursday night.
Jimmerson scored on a 42-yard run and Chancellor added a 65-yard return to give the Mean Green (6-3, 4-1 Conference USA) a 21-16 lead with 3:26 left in the first half.
Derek Thompson threw a 46-yard scoring pass to Jimmerson in the third quarter to help North Texas become bowl eligibility for the first time since 2004.
"We're not in a bowl yet, we're just bowl eligible," North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. "We've got a lot of work to do. But this is a major milestone. That was a great example of character out there. ... It was just a fabulous effort by the whole team. It was a complete came, a complete victory."
Jimmerson also had eight carries for 62 yards, and Thompson was 7 of 13 for 104 yards.
Taylor McHargue threw two touchdown passes for Rice (6-3, 4-1) in the second quarter, a 21-yarder to Turner Petersen and a 32-yarder to Jordan Taylor. McHargue was 18 of 28 for 222 yards, and Charles Ross ran for 101 yards on 18 carries. Ross has five 100-yard games this season and nine overall.
Rice opened the scoring with a safety and North Texas took the lead on Zachary Orr's 55-yard fumble return with 41 seconds left in the first quarter.
The loss ended Rice's winning streak at five and its Conference USA streak at eight.
After a tipped-pass interception in the fourth quarter, Rice drove to a first-and-goal at the 1. The Mean Green stopped the Owls four times, only to see Rice get an extra set on a penalty. But North Texas stopped the Owls four more times, capping the stand with an 11-yard loss on the final fourth-down play.
"I was just blown away by that goal-line stand," McCarney said. "It was really representative of this team's toughness, its never-say-die attitude."
Defensive back Kenny Buyers had a team-high 10 tackles
"Everyone was just doing their job," Buyers said. "It's just the best feeling."
Rice's last hope was killed by Marcus Trice's second interception.
"This is not the ceiling for this team," McCarney said. "We've got three games left and a lot to play for. There's a lot of hunger down in that locker room. Now let's take it from here, keep the edge, keep the hunger."
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USC athletic director Pat Haden spoke Tuesday about the decision to fire head coach Steve Sarkisian, calling it "very difficult," while also defending his handling of the situation.
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