Jan. 1, 2014
North Texas lifts the Heart of Dallas Bowl trophy after a 36-14 win on New Year's Day (photo by Rick Yeatts)
Heart of Dallas Bowl Photo Gallery
DALLAS - For the first time in eleven years and the first time on New Year's Day in program history, the North Texas football team is a bowl champion.
In a game that epitomized the 2013-14 North Texas season, the Mean Green fell behind early but showed its boundless resiliency, methodically taking control of the game, battering the UNLV offense into submission, getting an efficient performance from senior quarterback Derek Thompson, and scoring a Heart of Dallas bowl-record 22 fourth-quarter points to roll to a 36-14 victory Wednesday afternoon at the Cotton Bowl.
"Really proud of my football team," North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. "I dreamed of day these seniors could go to a bowl game and win a bowl game."
Thompson completed 21-of-30 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions, and earned the game's Most Valuable Player award, while Brelan Chancellor scored two touchdowns on reverses, both in the fourth-quarter assault that sealed the win.
"We knew if we picked up the tempo that we could do some things and move the football," Thompson said. "We just made plays. I wasn't anything special that we did. We just executed. The defense did the rest."
There were a number of negative streaks facing the Mean Green coming into the game. North Texas had never won on New Year's Day (0-1), had never won at the Cotton Bowl (0-3) and had never beaten UNLV (0-4), and the Rebels had never lost a bowl game (3-0). But before a crowd of 38,380 - almost entirely outfitted in North Texas green - the Mean Green put all those streaks to rest.
Early on, however, UNLV's read-option offense sorely tested the Mean Green defense. The Rebels came into the game averaging 31 points and 423 yards a game, and backed up those stats on their opening drive with a 95-yard scoring march for a 7-0 lead.
But the North Texas defense adjusted quickly and reined in the Rebel attack. A pair of big losses - on a tackle by Will Wright and a sack by James Jones - marked the beginning of a relentless, merciless pounding of UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring.
"I was tellling the guys to settle in," said senior linebacker Zach Orr, who led North Texas with nine sacks and had two and a half sacks. "It was the first time we had played a football game in over a month, and I felt like that first drive we were kind of playing on our heels and not playing our great defense. It just really did bounce back after that drive, and we pretty much shut them out the rest of the game."
North Texas sacked Herring five times and hit him countless other times, forcing errant throws. North Texas also broke up six passes. After completing his first nine passes, Herring completed just six of his next 24 throws and was intercepted for just the fifth time this season when Kenny Buyers came up with his third interception.
It took longer for the North Texas offense to get going, as the Mean Green struggled to find consistency in the first half. A 43-yard run by Brandin Byrd on the game-opening drive was called back by a penalty, and from that point on the offense sputtered, converting just one of six third downs in the first half.
The Mean Green, however, got a break late in the opening period that got them even on the scoreboard. A punt to UNLV was jarred loose from Rebel return man Keith Whitely when one of his own blockers crashed into him as he was fielding the kick. Zed Evans recovered the fumble for North Texas at the UNLV 42.
Wide receivers Chancellor and Carlos Harris then sparked the offense and moved the Mean Green to the UNLV three with three reverses, something North Texas practiced again and again in the lead-up to the game. Antoinne Jimmerson scored from a yard out to tie the game.
With the game tied 7-7 at halftime, North Texas took complete control in the second half. UNLV had 192 yards of total offense in the first half, but just 20 in the third quarter and 50 in the fourth period, while the Mean Green offense found its legs.
The Mean Green took the lead for the first time on its first drive of the second half, a march capped by a Thompson-to-Drew Miller seven-yard touchdown pass and a 14-7 lead.
Chancellor, who had 181 all-purpose yards to shatter the North Texas career and single-season records, scored on a three-yard run, then Thompson dropped a perfect pass into Darnell Smith for a 34-yard score and a commanding 28-7 lead. Chancellor finished the North Texas scoring with another wide-receiver reverse, this one from 15 yards out.
What They Said
"They're going to beat you up a little bit. They play very physical on both sides of the ball."
--UNLV coach Bobby Hauck speaking - prophetically - about the Mean Green at Tuesday's press conference
"These 22 seniors will be remembered forever. Bowl champions. Bowl champions."
--North Texas coach Dan McCarney after the Heart of Dallas Bowl victory.
"What we have to do, what every team that goes on to win, is handle adversity. When bad things happen, don't go in the tank, don't slump your shoulders, don't drop your head."
--McCarney on his team's reaction to falling behind early.
"It's such a special experience to be able to come down here, play close to home in front of our fans. You saw the kind of support the team brought. It was so exciting running on the field and seeing a sea of green."
--Quarterback Derek Thompson on playing in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The Mean Green's 36 points Wednesday are the most North Texas has ever scored in a bowl game.
North Texas scored 22 points in the fourth quarter, a season high and a Heart of Dallas Bowl record.
North Texas wins its first-ever game in the Cotton Bowl. The Mean Green is now 1-3 when playing in the Cotton Bowl. This is also the first time that North Texas has played in a bowl game in the DFW area and the third in the state of Texas.
With the win, North Texas becomes just the fifth team in school history with nine wins. The nine wins ties for the second most in school history.
North Texas has entered stadiums all season under the Mean Green Family flag. Wednesday, it also took the field led by an American flag with sparks flying from the flag pole.
UNLV, well aware of the threat Brelan Chancellor poses on kick returns, squibbed the opening kickoff and got it into the end zone for a touchback.
For the 10th time this season, North Texas gave up the first points of the game when UNLV drove 95 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
UNLV's first drive was just the 13th scoring drive of 75 yards or more allowed by the Mean Green this year and first in the last four games.
Offensive lineman Mason Y'Barbo recovered his second fumble of the season when he came up with a ball jarred loose from Carlos Harris.
Quarterback Derek Thompson went out with a knee injury late in the first quarter, near the end of the Mean Green's first scoring drive, but returned on the next possession. Carlos Harris went down on the same play after taking a brutal hit, but he also returned before halftime.
UNLV got off to a flying start, averaging eight yards per play in the first quarter. But pressure by Richard Abbe and a big tackle by Will Wright threw the Rebels for a seven-yard loss, leading to UNLV's first punt of the game.
Abbe spent much of the first half in the UNLV backfield, consistently getting pressure on UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring. He also deflected a pass.
North Texas had four penalties for 40 yards in the first half, and UNLV wasn't whistled until the second half.
UNLV QB Herring had thrown only four interceptions this year, but North Texas sophomore defensive back Kenny Buyers intercepted a Herring pass in the fourth quarter. It was Buyers's third pick of the season.
The touchdown catch by Miller was his second of the season and second career TD reception.
After rolling up 192 yards total offense in the first half, UNLV managed just 20 yards in the third quarter in the face a constant pressure from North Texas that harried Herring and shut down the running game.
North Texas got its second two-point conversion of the season on Wednesday, and Drew Miller has both of them. Wednesday's conversion late in fourth quarter came off a blocked extra-point kick that Miller caught and ran into the end zone.
North Texas forced at least one turnover in very game this year.
With the James Jones sack in the second quarter, North Texas had at least one sack in each of the last nine games. North Texas finished the game with five sacks. North Texas has 39 quarterback sacks this year, which is more than any Mean Green team since 2002. The 39 sacks is tied for second on the team single-season records list.
National signing day on February 5, followed by spring practice.