Big Plays Fuel North Texas Rally For 30-23 Victory
Resilient Mean Green Battle Past UTSA To Halt Eight-Game Losing Streak
Jeffrey Wilson stiff-arms a UTSA defender Saturday night during NT's 30-23 win. (photo by Rick Yeatts)
DENTON - All the frustration and anger built up from an eight-game losing streak, from lop-sided losses, from the firing of their head coach, all of that emotion came bursting forth in a flash flood of second-half Mean Green big plays Saturday night.
It started with a 45-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Kishawn McClain to give North Texas its first lead in 24 quarters, was followed by a Willy Ivery fumblerooski five-yard TD run, then a blocked UTSA extra point that Chad Davis returned for two points.
Riding high on those successes, North Texas got a fourth-quarter 54-yard run by DaMarcus Smith to set up a tie-breaking one-yard touchdown sneak by Smith, and got stops by the Mean Green defense on UTSA's final two possessions to make North Texas a winner for the first time this season, 30-23.
"It's like the Super Bowl," North Texas head coach Mike Canales said of his locker room after the Halloween-night win at Apogee Stadium. "I'm so proud of our players. They could have quit and rolled over three weeks ago, but they didn't.
"We played as a team tonight, all three units," he added. "Every position stood up and made plays when they had to."
North Texas, after losing its first five games this year, showed progress the past two weeks but still came up short against Western Kentucky and Marshall. But Saturday, the Mean Green avoided a big early deficit, then came up with huge plays on offense, defense, and special teams.
McClain's fumble return - the longest by a Mean Green player since Zach Orr's fumble return for a TD on Halloween night two years ago - put NT up 17-14 in the third quarter. After UTSA went back up, NT answered immediately. getting a sensational 27-yard run by Jeffrey Wilson, who started right, reversed course, and, helped by a block from quarterback DaMarcus Smith, rumbled around the left side down to the five-yard line. Ivery took it in on the next play for a 21-17 lead.
Again, UTSA scored to retake the lead, but it was extraordinarily short lived. North Texas' Austin Orr broke through the Roadrunner line to block the PAT, and Chad Davis returned the loose ball 80 yards for two points. Instead of trailing by three, North Texas was level at 23-23.
"We've been trying to get a block for two years, and we got one tonight," Davis said. "I saw the ball and said, 'I got to make a big play.' "
North Texas rode that jolt of momentum the rest of the night, and huge defensive plays from Nate Brooks, Zac Whitfield, and James Gray - in particular in breaking up a pair of fourth-down Roadrunner passes - closed out the win.
"We stuck together," Smith said. "We've worked our butts off. We played great defense all night, and that helped motivate the offense. When everybody's clicking, the offense, the defense and special teams, it's contagious."
"It was great," said Wilson, who rushed for 127 yards. "Anytime you're together with your brothers and you finally get that win, it's just...I'm speechless. I'm just happy we got the win."
What They Said
"It was the hardest week of my life. I went home to bury my best friend and my brother, and I was a pallbearer at both funerals. But I knew they would want me to be here. I got a hundred brothers depending on me. We go through the good and the bad together. The only thing to help me move forward was a win."
--DaMarcus Smith, whose brother and his best friend died last week.
"He was focused. He missed practice Thursday and Friday. He went through walk-through today, and I was really nervous because it was not good. But he grew up on the job. It was right up to gametime to decide to go with DaMarcus. He had the look in his eye that we was going to play tonight."
--North Texas coach Mike Canales on quarterback DaMarcus Smith
"You would see everybody feel like, 'We got this.' It was so electric on the sideline."
--Canales on the aftermath of the blocked extra point returned for two points to tie the game at 23-23.
"It wasn't a monkey. It was a piano. It was heavy."
--Canales on the weight of being winless that was lifted from the teams' back.
"Now we have a rivalry. We finally beat UTSA. I tip my visor to them, they came here to win. But so did we."
--Canales on the Mean Green's first win in three tries against in-state foe UTSA. All three have been close, down-to-the-wire affairs.
• Ivery's TD came on a hidden-ball trick play known as the fumblerooski, which North Texas refers to as rooster. In it, the QB takes the snap and immediately hands the ball to the running back through the running back's legs. The QB then takes off right as if he still has the ball, while the RB heads left. It worked perfectly for North Texas Saturday night.
• NT quarterback DaMarcus Smith had a 40-yard run in the first quarter, his longest run of the year. He later topped that with the 54-yard burst to set up his one-yard, go-ahead touchdown sneak.
• There were only three scoring drives in the first half, a touchdown march by each team and a UTSA drive capped by a field goal and aided by a controversial no-call on intentional grounding by the Roadrunner QB.
• Saturday, North Texas grabbed its first lead since leading Rice, 10-7, in the second quarter on Sept. 19, and its first second-half lead since leading SMU, 13-10, in the third quarter on Sept. 12.
• DaMarcus Smith went over 100 yards rushing for the second time this season, finishing with 137 yards on 14 carries.
• Wilson eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark for the third time this season.
• With his fifth reception of the night, giving him 183 for his career, Carlos Harris passed David Brown for third place all-time in North Texas history.
• Jarrian Roberts added to his team-leading sack total, picking up his fifth sack of the season.
• The 45-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Kishawn McClain was the Mean Green's first defensive touchdown of the season, the first since a 98-yard interception return by Zac Whitfield on Sept. 20, 2014, and the first fumble recovery for a touchdown since a 31-yard return by Jarrian Roberts on Sept. 6, 2014. It was also the 22nd defensive or special teams touchdown by the Mean Green since the start of the 2011 season.
• The nine points scored on defense and special teams for North Texas is the most since scoring 21 points on defense and special teams against Nicholls State on Sept. 20, 2014.
• Tre Johnson's 30-yard punt return was the longest of the season for North Texas, setting the Mean Green up at the UTSA 25-yard line, which led to a seven-yard touchdown run for Jeffrey Wilson.
• The Green Brigage marching band was in full Halloween mode Saturday. The percussion section was dressed as tacos and the big bass drums were skinned as Pac-Man and the ghosts. There were multiple Waldos, a very large bunch of bananas, bottles of mustard and ketchup, Alice in Wonderland, pirates and zombies, superheros and pink bunnies, the left shark, a slab of bacon, a penguin, a ballot with a hanging chad, the Phantom of the Opera, Gumby, and even Jesus. The halftime performance concluded with cheerleaders dressed as zombies doing Michael Jackson's Thriller.
The Mean Green travel travel to Ruston, La., to face the leaders of C-USA's Western Division, Louisiana Tech. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.