Mean Green Battle Back For 42-35 Double OT Victory
North Texas Stops Owls On Fourth Down In Second Overtime
HOUSTON - Saturday's game at Rice Stadium may go down as the night head coach Seth Littrell's first-year program and his true-freshman quarterback began to grow up.
A dreadful, mistake-riddled first quarter plunged the Mean Green into a 17-0 hole - the same deficit North Texas faced in the season opener. This time, however, North Texas came back and kept coming back, and got the big plays needed to complete the rally.
The Mean Green got a career-best 224 yards passing, a touchdown pass and a 15-yard scramble to set up another score from freshman QB Mason Fine, three touchdowns and a career-best 157 yards rushing from junior running back Jeffery Wilson, and three touchdowns from junior running back Willie Ivery, including the game-winner, and three turnover from its defense.
But it wasn't until North Texas defensive end Jareid Combs and linebacker Brandon Garner stuffed Rice running back Darik Dillard and threw him back for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-one from the NT 16 that the Mean Green emerged with a 42-35 double-overtime victory over the Owls.
Rice had converted two fourth downs earlier in the game, hammering North Texas with Dillard, who also had a pair of short touchdown runs. But on the final fourth-and-one in the second OT, Garner and Combs smashed Dillard in the backfield.
"I'm extremely proud of the way our young men grinded," Littrell said. "It was never perfect, but I was very proud of the way they continued to fight.
"I felt good about the way we've fought all year," he added. "It shows you what a great week of preparation does for you. You believe you'll find a way to win, and tonight we did that."
The win snaps North Texas' 14-game road losing streak, levels the Mean Green's season record at 2-2, and makes NT 1-0 in Conference USA play.
North Texas has made a habit out of slow starts in the last few seasons, but Saturday's was one for the books, a molasses-in-wintertime kind of start. The Mean Green offense ran six plays - a pair of three-and-outs - for -17 yards, while the defense surrendered 157 yards and two scoring drives in the first period.
Which makes the second-quarter turnaround all the more stunning. Down 17-0 and showing no pulse, the Mean Green suddenly reanimated. North Texas mounted a 75-yard scoring drive in which Fine, after getting sacked twice and fumbling once in the opening period, threw his first career touchdown pass, a 16-yard toss to a diving Ivery in the end zone.
The North Texas defense awoke as well, stopping the last four Rice possessions, forcing three turnovers and setting up another Mean Green scoring drive, this one highlighted by a 75-yard catch-and-run by Kenny Buyers and finished by a one-yard sweep by Wilson.
In the second half, Wilson swept around the left side and burst 75 yards to put North Texas up, 21-20.
North Texas was up 28-20 when Rice scored with 2:34 to play and converted a two-point conversion to force overtime. Rice scored first in OT, but a Wilson touchdown tied the game, and Ivery's TD on the first possession of the second OT period put the Mean Green on top and set the stage for the defense to close out the victory.
"We got a long way to go," Littrell said, "but we're growing up and developing and getting more mature as a football team,"
What They Said
"We worked hard, and it carried over to the game.
--NT head coach Seth Littrell on his team's good week of practice
"Do your job. Guys were maybe trying to do too much on offense, and we were just sloppy. We had to step back and focus in."
--Littrell on his message to the team after falling behind 17-0
"The scheme's good enough, what you do in practice is good enough. Trust your teammates to do their job and you do yours, and we'll be fine. When you do those things, great things happen"
--Littrell on his team's renewed execution beginning in the second quarter
"They obviously just pinched and took everything away from us. We've got to sustain blocks and get moving at the point where we're attacking, whether they're slanting or pinching. We didn't need a whole lot of yards."
--Rice head coach David Bailiff on the final fourth-and-one in the second overtime
• Junior running back Jeffery Wilson ran for his fourth, fifth and sixth touchdowns of the season, already his most in a single season, and his 75-yard run in the third quarter was a career best. It was his first three-touchdown game.
• Wilson also had a career high with 157 yards rushing.
• Junior running back Willie Ivery had three touchdowns, including the Mean Green's TD in the second overtime.
• Junior safety Kishawn McClain intercepted a Rice pass late in the second quarter for his team-high second interception of the season. Later in the quarter, he also forced a recovered a fumble, and came up with a big pass breakup in the fourth quarter. He finished with 10 tackles.
• Sophomore cornerback Nate Brooks recorded the first sack of his career early in the first quarter.
• Redshirt sophomore wide receiver O'Keeron Rutherford grabbed a 32-yard reception Saturday, the longest of his career.
• Junior linebacker Joshua Wheeler forced and recovered a fumble in the second quarter.
• Sophomore nickelback Ashton Preston recorded the first sack of his career on third and long, forcing a Rice punt midway through the second quarter. He also had a career-high 10 tackles, two for loss, and a forced fumble.
• The last overtime game for the Mean Green came in 2009 against Ohio, which the Mean Green lost 31-30 in double overtime on Sept. 12 in Denton.
• The win is North Texas' first on the road since a 42-10 win at Tulsa on Nov. 30, 2013.
• Saturday's game was under threat of a weather delay as lightning in the area kept the teams off the field for warmups until just over an hour before kickoff, when the storm system fell apart and the sun came out.
• Senior linebacker Cortney Finney registered a career-high 12 tackles (eight solo), eclipsing his previous high of eight from Sept. 10, 2016, in a win over Bethune-Cookman.
• Redshirt senior wide receiver Kenny Buyers finished with a career-high four catches for 102 yards, a career-best.
• North Texas had three scoring drives (not including overtime periods) lasting 2:34 or less, including a one-play, 75-yard drive in 8 seconds; a six-play, 90-yard drive in 1:46; and a nine-play 75-yard drive in 2:34, all resulting in touchdowns.
• North Texas had no choice but to win Saturday: today was NFL Hall of Famer and NT alumnus Joe Greene's 70th birthday.
The Mean Green returns to Apogee Stadium to face Middle Tennessee on Saturday, Oct. 1, at 6 p.m.