Defensive Stops Fuel Mean Green's 45-38 Win

Nic Smith scores the game-winning touchdown against ODU (photo by Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports)
Oct. 28, 2017

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DENTON - The North Texas defense bounced back from its worst performance of the season a week ago to put together four consecutive stops - including three on fourth-and-one - in the fourth quarter, lifting the Mean Green to a 45-38 victory over Old Dominion Saturday at Apogee Stadium.

After ODU rallied from 14-, 18- and 15-point first-half deficits to take a 38-35 lead in the third quarter, the Mean Green defense took over.

"I was proud of the way we fought," North Texas head coach Seth Littrell said. "We fought a lot of demons. I was proud of the way the defense stepped up on those last four possessions."

It began with a sack by the Mean Green's Joe Ozougwu and Tillman Johnson which resulted in a fumble that LaDarius Hamilton recovered, setting up a game-tying field goal from Trevor Moore. On the Monarchs' next possession, on fourth-and-one from the ODU 48, North Texas defensive end Andy Flusche shot into the Monarchs' backfield to stop running back Jeremy Cox and turn the ball over on downs to UNT. Four plays later, Mean Green running back Nic Smith scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 20-yard run.

The defense made that lead stand up with a fourth-and-one stop by Dee Baulkman, who batted a pass away, and a fourth-and-one stop by a swarm of Mean Green defenders.

"Last week we had lapses in focus," Flusche said. "This week we went back to work and got back to our roots."

The win combined with Southern Miss' loss to UAB Saturday puts North Texas (4-1 in Conference USA play, 5-3 overall) in sole possession of first place in C-USA's West.

North Texas dominated the majority of play in the first half, out-gaining the Monarchs, 284-149, to build double-digit leads. But the Mean Green could not make those advantages stand up.

North Texas rolled up 35 points in the first half through all three phases of the game. Quarterback Mason Fine completed his first 10 passes and 15 of his first 16 for 180 yards, and the Mean Green scored touchdowns on its first two drives. UNT blocked two punts in the second quarter, one by Taylor Robinson that Evan Johnson returned for a touchdown and one by E.J. Ejiya, and Flusche got his first career interception to set up a 1-yard touchdown dive from Smith.

But much of that production was offset when Old Dominion (0-4, 2-6) returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, got a spectacular one-handed interception from Joe Joe Headen leading to a 45-yard field goal, recovered a North Texas fumble to set up a 28-yard field goal, and picked up a first down with a fake punt to add a 34-yard field goal to pull within 35-23 at halftime.

Old Dominion then controlled the third quarter, amassing 163 yards of offense and scoring a pair of touchdowns, adding a two-point conversion after the second TD to grab a 38-35 lead and force yet another North Texas fourth-quarter comeback.

"We can't lose focus in the middle of the game" Fine said. "I'm tired of learning how to win close games. I want to learn how to put teams away."

What They Said

"The offensive line did their job."
   --running back Nic Smith on his 72-yard, two-touchdown performance

"Stop the run."
   --defensive end Andy Flusche on the defense's mindset agaist ODU

"We've got to be a more disciplined team."
   --coach Seth Littrell on the Mean Green's mental lapses Saturday

Quick Hits

  • Senior running back Jeffery Wilson's first-quarter touchdown is his 27th career rushing TD, tying him for fourth all-time at North Texas with Jamario Thomas (2004-07).
  • Wilson has a rushing TD in eight of his last nine games, dating back to last year's Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl.
  • Sophomore wide receiver Rico Bussey, Jr., caught a 34-yard touchdown in the first quarter for his third TD of the season, a career high.
  • Bussey also had a career-best 111 receiving yards, topping his previous high of 57 in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl, and a career high in receptions with seven, topping his previous high of four.
  • Sophomore quarterback Mason Fine completed 25 passes to surpass Riley Dodge (2008-10) for eighth in career completions at UNT. He also threw for more than 300 yards for the fifth time in his career, the second most 300-yard games in North Texas history. Fine is 40 yards shy of 4,000 for his career, a mark only six quarterbacks in program history have reached.
  • North Texas scored a touchdown on its opening two possessions and has scored on its first two drives in all four home games this year.
  • UNT redshirt sophomore defensive back had his second punt block of the year, which Evan Johnson scooped up and returned 40 yards for a touchdown. The score was Johnson's second of the game, his first coming on a 6-yard run.
  • ODU's Isaiah Harper had two kickoff returns for touchdowns, the first time a Monarch player has returned multiple kickoffs for TDs in a game.
  • North Texas redshirt freshman punter Blake Patterson had a career-best punt of 68 yards in the second quarter.
  • Senior defensive end Andy Flusche recorded his first career interception, made possible by a quarterback hurry from junior defensive tackle Roderick Young.
  • Eric Jenkins had his first interception of the season.
  • Senior kicker Trevor Moore was 6-of-6 on extra points Saturday, raising his streak of made PATs to 132 and tying for the third longest in the nation among active players.
  • North Texas is 3-1 this year against teams that played in bowl games last year.
  • The Mean Green forced three turnovers after not forcing one since the win over UAB on Sept. 23.
  • Redshirt freshman RB Nic Smith had his first multi-rushing touchdown game with two.
  • Redshirt junior linebacker E.J. Ejiya had 10 tackles to tie for the team lead with senior safety Kishawn McClain with 67.
  • McClain had 11 tackles and needs two more to reach 300 for his career.

What's Next

North Texas faces Louisiana Tech next Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Ruston.



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