Drew Miller dives for the goal line and a fourth-quarter touchdown. (photo by Rick Yeatts)
DENTON, TX - North Texas saw its chances of capturing the Conference USA West Division title - chances so alive and within the Mean Green's control after five-straight wins - suffer a fatal blow in a 21-13 senior-day loss Saturday at Apogee Stadium.
The Mean Green's first-ever meeting with UTSA turned on third down. North Texas struggled to convert on third down, making a first down on just six of 15 opportunities, leading to wasted scoring opportunities. The Roadrunners, meanwhile converted 14-of-19 third downs, including four on a fourth-quarter drive that put UTSA up 21-6.
"They were much better than we were on third down," North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. "Normally that will have a lot to do with the outcome of the game, and it sure did today."
North Texas (7-4 on the year, 5-2 in C-USA) put on a furious rally late, getting its lone touchdown on a six-yard pass to Drew Miller with 5:38 to play to pull within eight points. In the final minute, the Mean Green put together a frantic drive that reached the UTSA two-yard line with one second to play, but a pass into the end zone on the final play of the game was intercepted.
The Mean Green came into Saturday's final home game of the regular season half a game back of Rice in C-USA's West Division. However, with a tie-breaker advantage over the Owls, a win Saturday would have put North Texas back into first place with a game to play. Instead, Saturday's loss eliminates the Mean Green from contention for the West title and a berth in the C-USA title game, a berth that will be decided next week in Houston when Rice and Tulane meet.
The North Texas offense was sluggish most of the night, unable to maintain drives and generating just 35 yards rushing, 92 yards total offense, and six first downs in the first half. Until the Miller TD, North Texas managed just two field goals, one set up by Marcus Trice's fifth interception of the season. The 13 point-output Saturday is the Mean Green's fewest this year.
UTSA, meanwhile, out-gained North Texas more than two to one in the first half and converted seven of its 11 third downs, on its way to 458 yards total offense for the game, the most yards the Mean Green has surrendered in conference play. The win made the Roadrunners (6-5) bowl eligible.
What They Said
"It's exactly what we've been talking about for two weeks. We knew they were a good team. In person, they were physical; in person, they were fast; in person, they executed. There was no surprise from what they did."
--North Texas coach Dan McCarney on UTSA
"We were sloppy today. We didn't tackle as well as we needed to."
--McCarney on his defense
"We can't let this game beat us next Saturday."
--McCarney on the final regular-season game next week in Tulsa
Senior defensive back Marcus Trice came up with his team-leading fifth interception of the season at the end of the first quarter, returning the ball 14 yards to set up the Mean Green's first score, a 44-yard field goal by Zach Paul.
Trice's five interceptions is the most in a season for North Texas since Craig Robertson's five picks in 2007.
North Texas has forced at least one turnover in every game this year, and has intercepted a pass in six straight games.
Senior tight end Drew Miller scored his first touchdown of the season on a six-yard pass from Derek Thompson. It was Miller's second career TD.
UTSA's 458 yards of total offense were the most North Texas has allowed in conference this season, and the third most allowed all year. Only Ball State and Georgia had more yards.
The Mean Green's 334 yards of total offense were the fifth fewest for North Texas this season.
Trice blocked a punt for the second time this year. His first came at Georgia.
The Mean Green scored just three points through three quarters, their fewest output through three periods of the year.
This was the eighth game this season in which the Mean Green's opponent has scored first.
UTSA scored on its opening possession, the first North Texas has allowed an opponent to score on its first drive since the third game of the year against Ball State.
Senior linebacker Zach Orr had 10 tackles Saturday and has 106 tackles for the season, just eight shy of the top 10 for a single season in school history. Lester Harper's 114 tackles in 1982 is currently 10th.
North Texas concludes the regular season next Saturday, Nov. 30, at Tulsa. Game time is 1:30 p.m.