Fine Leads Thrilling Rally For 29-26 Victory

Rico Bussey, Jr., eludes a UTSA defender to score the game-winning touchdown Saturday at Apogee Stadium (photo by Manny Flores, Rick Yeatts photography)
Oct. 14, 2017

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DENTON - In a season of gut-wrenching, nerve-wracking, cliff-hanging momentum shifts, Saturday night's was the most dramatic of all.

After seeing UT San Antonio take the lead with 3:29 to play, after a North Texas drive was stopped on downs with 1:28 to play, and after the defense gave North Texas one last chance with with 1:07 to play, down four points, no time outs and 98 yards to go, Mean Green quarterback Mason Fine engineered a drive for ages.

The sophomore, who completed 10 of his final 12 passes, hit Michael Lawrence for 49 yards to get into scoring position with 32 seconds to play. On third and one from the UTSA 22, the Roadrunners threw a max blitz at Fine, who survived the onslaught just long enough to deliver a pass to Rico Bussey, Jr., coming across the middle. Bussey crossed the UTSA defense, eluded a defender and turned the corner, tight-roping down the sideline for the final 10 yards for the game-winning touchdown and a 29-26 victory over UTSA at Apogee Stadium.

"He's just a great person who plays extremely hard," North Texas coach Seth Littrell said of his QB, who threw for 354 yards the three touchdowns. "He put his body on the line and took a lot of shots. He had to stand in there and throw that last route. I just love the way the man plays. He's just a great person to be around."

The victory against the in-state rival Roadrunners keeps the Mean Green (4-2 overall, 3-0 in Conference USA play) alone atop the league standings, a game ahead of UAB and Southern Miss, both of whom North Texas has already beaten, and a game-and-a-half ahead of Louisiana Tech, who was idle Saturday. UTSA (3-2, 0-2) has now lost two straight.

UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm appeared to have made the game's big play when he scrambled for 19 yards on third and 17 to spark a late-fourth-quarter drive for a go-ahead touchdown with 3:29 to play, putting the Roadrunners up 26-22. North Texas followed with a drive that died at midfield on fourth down, but the Mean Green defense and three time outs earned the offense one final chance.

"They never quit," Littrell said. "They really believed they were going to find a way to win."

"We just ran out and did our two minute drill, and executed," Fine said. "We always have confidence. We have all the confidence in the world."

"You saw UNT come into a fight against a really good team, and we came out with a win," said wide receiver Jalen Guyton, who had another huge performance with eight receptions for 182 yards and two touchdowns. "It was like a boxing match."

A match in which Fine was almost knocked out on the the final play. He was buried under the UTSA pass rush and stayed down while his teammates celebrated Bussey's TD. In fact, he didn't know North Texas had scored until the training staff informed him.

"I'm sure he'll be sore tomorrow," Littrell said. "But he's so mentally tough."

North Texas started the game with one of its strongest opening salvos of the season. The Mean Green scored more points in the opening period than UTSA had allowed in its four previous first periods and converted more third downs than UTSA had allowed in any game. Those marches included a game-opening 88-yard scoring drive and a 77-yard touchdown pass from Fine to Guyton, but was marred by a high-snap on an extra point that left the Mean Green with a 13-0 lead.

But the Mean Green's lead was tenuous. UTSA answered with a pair of scoring drives to pull within 16-10 in the second quarter, then took the lead two minutes before halftime, 17-16.

The aggressive Roadrunners defense, whose blitz had been picked up early in the game on multiple third-down conversions, began to get pressure on Fine, sacking him three times before halftime and taking the steam out of the Mean Green attack. After rolling up 239 yards total offense in the first quarter, North Texas had just 8 yards in the second quarter and 19 yards and one first down in the third quarter.

But the North Texas defense kept UTSA at bay, holding the Roadrunners to a third quarter field goal. Eric Jenkins had had two pass breakups, Kishawn McClain had a team-high nine tackles, and LaDarius Hamilton had two big quarterback hurries.

Finally, the Mean Green offense began to move. Wilson got the drive going with 13-yard run to the UTSA 42, and, after a 10-yard Nic Smith run, Fine again connected with Guyton on a perfectly-thrown 32-yard touchdown. Another problem on the center snap on the extra point left the lead at a thin 22-20.

What They Said

"I told him I love him."
   --Seth Littrell on his exchange with Mason Fine immediately after the game

"I saw them coming on a blitz. I just saw the ball coming to me and tried to score."
   --Rico Bussey, Jr., on his game-winning touchdown

"It was a great team win. We got a lot to clean up, but it's much better to clean up after a win."

Quick Hits

  • North Texas converted five third downs on its opening possession - more than UTSA has allowed in an entire game this season. For the game, the Mean Green converted 9-of-16 third downs. The Roadrunners had allowed a total of eight third-down conversions in its four previous contests and no more than three in any game.
  • UTSA was converting 47.3 percent of is third downs this year, but North Texas limited the Roadrunners to 4-of-14, just 28.6 percent.
  • The Mean Green's 17-play opening drive was the longest drive UTSA allowed this year in terms of plays and time of possession.
  • The Mason Fine 77-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Guyton is the longest play of the season for UNT.
  • North Texas' 16 first-quarter points were more than UTSA had allowed in the opening period all year.
  • North Texas has its first 3-0 start in conference play since 2004, and is 3-0 at home to start a season for the first time since 2013.
  • The 98-yard game-winning drive was the Mean Green's longest of the season.
  • UTSA entered the game atop Conference USA allowing 269.8 yards per game (ninth nationally). North Texas totaled 239 yards of offense in the first quarter and 441 in the game.
  • Senior kicker Trevor Moore moved into first place all-time at UNT in career extra points made. He moved past Brad Bazuldua's (2002-05) 121 points after touchdown with two PATs Saturday, giving him 122 for his career.
  • Fine threw for 354 yards, his 10th career game of 200 yards or more. That's the fifth most 200-yard passing games in school history, moving ahead of Scott Davis (1987-90).
  • Fine also moved into eighth place in career passing yards at North Texas with 3,368 yards, surpassing Ken Washington (1974-77) at 3,040 yards, Riley Dodge (2008-11) at 3,187 yards and Vidal Carlin (1965-66) at 3,233 yards. Next up is Jason Mills (1994-97) in seventh place with 3,981 yards.

What's Next

North Texas faces C-USA East Division leader Florida Atlantic on Saturday, Oct. 21, in Boca Raton, Florida. Kickoff is 4 p.m. central time. The game will be telecast on ESPN 3.



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