North Texas Edges Army In Thriller, 52-49
Fine Leads Mean Green To Shootout Victory For 6-0 Home Record
DENTON - Saturday night's regular-season finale at Apogee Stadium turned into a quarterback duel: Mason Fine's arm vs. Ahmad Bradshaw's legs.
In a shootout eerily reminiscent of another battle in Denton with a service academy 10 years ago this month, North Texas' Fine threw for 386 yards and four touchdowns and Army's Bradshaw ran for 244 yards and two TDs. But it was Fine who had the last word, directing a 46-yard scoring drive in the final minute capped by a 39-yard Trevor Moore field goal with five seconds to play for a 52-49 Mean Green victory.
"The three games we've had against them have been wars," said North Texas coach Seth Littrell, whose team split two meetings with Army a year ago. "Playing games like that aren't very good for your health. But this team perseveres and has each other's backs. It's awesome to see them pull these games out."
North Texas took a 49-42 lead with 3:13 to play on a 78-yard touchdown pass from Fine to senior wide receiver Turner Smiley, but the Black Knights tied the game on a drive highlighted by Army's lone pass completion of the game, a 27-yard toss on third and 6. Army, however, left Fine and North Texas 1:23 to win it.
Fine scrambled for a first down with 59 seconds to play, then hit Rico Bussey, Jr., for 14 yards to the Army 38 wth 19 seconds left. With no time outs remaining, North Texas lined up for a 49-yard field goal but, after an Army timeout to freeze Moore, the Mean Green choose to run another play.
"I felt good about Trevor's range," Littrell said. "But I wanted to discuss the situation with Mase. We had to be smart there, couldn't take a sack. We just wanted to get a little closer."
Fine connected with Smiley, who had three receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns and helped pick up the slack when Jalen Guyton left the game due to injury, for 10 yards to the Army 22, and Moore did the rest.
"He was clutch," Littrell said of Fine. "That last drive, the execution was great. Mason doesn't get rattled. He feeds off that pressure."
The win snaps Army's six-game win streak, extends the Mean Green's win streak to four, and gives North Texas an undefeated record at home for the first time since 2003 and a 6-0 mark for the first time since 1966.
"For us to accomplish one of our goals of going undefeated at home, I'm really proud of our team and these seniors," Littrell said. "The crowd was unbelievable, and this is the new standard of how we play at home."
North Texas (8-3 overall) faced the dilemma all Army opponents must tackle: how to stop that relentless triple option, an offense that once dominated college football but has long since gone out of fashion so that most defenses rarely see it. A year ago at West Point, North Texas got a lead and turnovers to force Army to throw, but at the Heart of Dallas Bowl the Mean Green were consistently unable to put Army in long-yardage situations and were ground down.
Bradshaw, who became Army's all-time leading rusher Saturday night, and the Black Knight running game was nearly unstoppable, gobbling up 8.0 yards per carry and piling up 534 yards on the ground. Army (8-3) attempted only three passes and didn't complete one until the final two minutes of the game.
The Mean Green, however, got out front early, scoring on its first possession - on the first of running back Jeffery Wilson's two touchdowns - and used a Taylor Robinson recovery of a fumbled Army punt return to open a two-score lead at 21-7.
But Army kept pounding away, driving for two more first-half touchdowns. North Texas answered once, but the Mean Green's cushion slipped away just before halftime when the Black Knights turned away a North Texas scoring threat with an interception, limiting the North Texas halftime lead to 28-20. And Army got the ball to start the second half.
The Black Knight juggernaut quickly tied the game at 28-28, and the offenses traded touchdowns the rest of the half. The Mean Green offense overcame another injury in the third quarter when Wilson went down and did not return. Redshirt freshman Nic Smith stepped in, rushing for 32 yards and a score on a fourth-quarter scoring march.
Fine's effort matched his career-best for touchdown passes and set the Mean Green's all-time record for passing yards in a single season with 3,198.
"It just shows how far this team has come," Fine said. "It's not so much an individual record as a team record."
What They Said
"He's a special player. His teammates respect him."
--Seth Littrell on kicker Trevor Moore
"To be a senior and have my last game be like that, it was great."
--senior wide receiver Turner Smiley
"It's not great. I was really happy the way the guys were picking him up on the sideline. It's possible we could get him back."
--Littrell on running back Jeffery Wilson, who left the game with an injury in the second half
- With Florida Atlantic's win Saturday over Florida International, the Conference USA championship game is set. North Texas will play FAU on Dec. 2 at 11 a.m. CT in Boca Raton, Florida. The game will be televised on ESPN 2.
- This is the second time North Texas has played an opponent that it faced in a bowl game the previous season. North Texas played Nevada in the 1947 Salad Bowl and met it again in the 1948 regular season. The Mean Green also had a rematch with a post-season foe from the previous year when North Texas played Louisiana-Monroe (then known as Northeast Louisiana) in the 1987 NCAA Division I-AA playoffs and faced it the following regular season.
- Ten years ago this month was the North Texas-Navy shootout at Fouts Field, which Navy won, 72-64. Navy then, like Army now, was an almost pure rushing team.
- Senior running back Jeffery Wilson moved into seventh place for single-season rushing yards at North Texas, passing Malcom Jones (1980) and Patrick Cobbs (2005) with 1,215 yards. Wilson has 3,205 yards for his career, making him just the fifth player in school history to top 3,000 yards rushing.
- Wilson's two rushing touchdowns give him a single-season career-best 16 this season and 32 for his career.
- Quarterback Mason Fine's sophomore season continues to climb the school's record book. Fine, with 3,198 yards, takes over the top spot in single-season passing yards, overtaking North Texas All-Century quarterback Steve Ramsey's 1969 campaign, Heart of Dallas MVP Derek Thompson 2013 season, and Mitch Maher in 1994.
- Fine is also moving up in single-season passing touchdowns. His four TD throws Saturday give him 26 this year, tying for the most in school history. Fine has surpassed the 24 TDs of Mitch Maher's 1993 season and Steve Ramsey's 1968 and 1969 seasons, and matched the 26 touchdowns by Maher in 1994.
- This was Fine's sixth 300-yard passing game of the year.
- North Texas lost sophomore wide receiver Jalen Guyton late in the first half when Army's Rhyan England launched himself and the crown of his helmet appeared to strike Guyton's head, causing Guyton's head to snap backwards. The referees called a targeting penalty but it was reversed on replay. Guyton eventually walked off but did not return to the game.
- Guyton had a 10-yard touchdown reception, his ninth of the season, moving him into a tie for seventh place on the single-season receiving touchdown list with Johnny Quinn (2004) and Charlie Murray (1978).
- Redshirt freshman running back Nic Smith scored his fifth touchdown of the season on a 3-yard run in the fourth quarter.
- Sophomore wide receiver Rico Bussey, Jr., tied a career high with seven catches, matching his output against Old Dominion on Oct. 28.
- Redshirt junior linebacker E.J. Ejiya had eight tackles on the night to put him in the team lead for the season with 81 tackles.
- Junior linebacker Brandon Garner had 10 tackles -- one shy of his career-high of 11 tackles on Oct. 22, 2016 at Army.
- Senior safety Kishawn McClain had 10 tackles to give him 79 on the season.
The Mean Green conclude the regular season in Houston against the Rice Owls on Saturday, Nov. 25, at noon. The game will be televised on ESPN 3.