Richard Abbe and Aaron Bellazin stop a Ball State pass in the second half (photo by Rick Yeatts)
DENTON, Texas - It took a half for the North Texas defense to solve an explosive Ball State attack, but the Mean Green pitched a shutout in the second half while Derek Thompson led the offense to the biggest NT comeback in over a decade for a 34-27 victory Saturday at Apogee Stadium.
North Texas trailed 20-3 in the first quarter before starting the long climb back. Thompson, who turned in another efficient, effective performance, capped the rally by scrambling 26 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 9:47 to play, and the defense then clamped down on Ball State's final possessions.
"You could just feel that we were going to win the game," North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. "Believe, believe, believe."
Despite forcing a season-high four turnovers in the first half and getting a strong performance from Thompson, North Texas trailed at halftime, 27-16. North Texas scored just three points off those four turnovers. Dropped passes and penalties forced the Mean Green to punt or settle for field goals, while the North Texas defense surrendered 366 yards to a Ball State team that came into the contest undefeated and averaging 45.5 points per game.
Ball State's lead was fueled by big plays, and the Cardinals were not forced to punt until the fourth quarter. But North Texas finally slowed Ball State in the third period, holding the Cardinals to a missed field goal then stopping them on a crucial fourth-down play deep in Mean Green territory. In the fourth quarter, North Texas completely shut down Ball State, allowing just one first down. Will Wright's interception with 1:12 to play ended the Cardinals' final possession and clinched the win.
"We don't have a chance if the defense didn't bow its neck like it did in the second half," Thompson said.
What They Said
"That's the difference between this team and the last couple of years. We're never out of it"
--Quarterback Derek Thompson on the rally from 17 down
"That's the fastest I've ever seen him run."
--Coach Dan McCarney on Thompson's 26-yard scoring run
"I run pretty fast when I'm scared."
--Thompson on his go-ahead touchdown scamper
"We kept clawing away at it and came up with the win."
--Linebacker Zach Orr
"There's a lot of grit on this team. The seniors want to be remembered for turning this program around."
--McCarney on his team's resiliency
Will Wright had his second career interception, a game-clinching pick with 1:12 to play. It was the fifth turnover for the North Texas defense.
Zach Paul made a 48-yard field goal in the first quarter, the first field goal of his career. That matches the longest field goal North Texas made a year ago. Paul made four field goals, including a game-tying 19-yard kick early in the fourth quarter.
North Texas is 7-0 under Dan McCarney when the Mean Green scores 30 or more points. The win lifts McCarney to 11 career victories in his 27th game, making him the fastest to 11 wins at North Texas since Hall-of-Fame coach Corky Nelson in 1984.
North Texas junior defensive back Lairamie Lee forced a fumble and had his first interception of the year (second of his career) in the first half. The Mean Green forced a season-high four turnovers in the first half.
The Mean Green is 2-1 for the first time since 1994. North Texas is 9-4 at home under Dan McCarney, and is guaranteed of finishing September no worse than .500 for the first time since 1994.
Thompson moved into fifth place all-time at North Texas in career passing yards, surpassing Giovanni Vizza.
Ball State scored a touchdown on its opening drive, the third-straight game the Mean Green has surrendered a TD on the opponent's first possession.
Drew Miller became the 14th different receiver to catch a pass this year for North Texas when he pulled in an eight-yard pass in the first quarter. It was the first catch by a Mean Green tight end this year. North Texas completed passes to 15 different receivers in all of 2012. Miller had a career-hhigh three receptions and caught a two-point conversion
Ball State's 77-yard TD run in the first quarter ws the longest play surrendered by North Texas this year.
The opposing defense has scored in two-straight games. Ohio scored on an interception return and Ball State scored on a first-quarter fumble return.
The North Texas defense administered some jarring hits Saturday afternoon. James Jones, Lairamie Lee and Zach Orr forced three fumbles in the first half, all of which were recovered by the Mean Green.
Running back Reggie Pegram had a career-high 32-yard run in the third quarter, good for his second touchdown of the season.
Sophomore defensive back Kenny Buyers had a career-high eight tackles go along with a fumble recovery.
North Texas finishes the non-conferece portion of its schedule with a Sept. 21 contest against the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens, Georgia.