RICE -- Let's not even talk about what happened a year ago when Rice's Bulldogs opened their season against Groesbeck with a lop-sided loss that had a lasting effect when the Bulldogs' second game was washed out.

That slow start stayed with Andy Mills' team in a way that left a bad taste in everyone's mouth at Rice.

Rice recovered just fine down the stretch and made the playoffs again in 2018, but the kids didn't forget what it felt like to lose to Groesbeck.

Maybe that's why Friday's opening night win felt so good, felt so right and makes this season feel soooo much better.

"We were excited at the end of the game," said Mills, who watched his kids hang on to a 23-20 win that felt a lot bigger. "After losing to them the way we did last year, this felt good.

"After getting shell-shocked by them in the first quarter of that game last year, it set us back the second week, and then we didn't get a chance to play the second game, and the next week we played Crawford, which had just come off playing at state, and we started 0-2. Hopefully, winning the game tonight will jump start us this year."

The loss to Groesbeck last year was about as bad as it gets, but the Rice kids came out confident and ready to avenge the loss and get rid of the feeling. The Bulldogs jumped out front and never trailed.

Mills had a tough decision in the second quarter just before halftime when his team drove to the Groesbeck 3-yard-line and faced a fourth down.

"I decided to kick the field goal and get the points," he said. "And that gave us a 10-point halftime lead (17-7). Our kicker, Elias Pena had a good game, kicking 2 of 3 PATs and making the 20-yard field goal, and we got a big play from our halfback Baylor Burkett, who threw a 55-yard halfback pass to Elizhah Nezar. And Jerry Montgomery had a big 40-yard touchdown run for us."

Rice quarterback Tanner Carlisle had a big night on both sides of the ball, rushing for a 22-yard TD and coming up with two interceptions to lead the defense, which stood up to Groesbeck all night. Nezar also had an interception.

"I feel like we're playing as a team, and playing with a lot of heart" Mills said. ""We played with a lot of heart.

"We've got a lot of kids from the basketball group and we're able to do multiple things with them," he said. "And our offense is a lot mor innovative now that I'm not calling it."

Rice's new offensive coordinator is former Frost coach Steve Burkett, whose son is Baylor, the versatile tailback. Mills likes both father and son and loves his new offense.

"This was a great program win," Mills said. "I think it will springboard us to start our season."

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