Mean Green Rallies But Comes Up Short, 34-27
North Texas Closes 2014 With Loss To UTSA At Alamodome
Freshman Trevor Moore made four field goals Saturday to set a single-season school record (photo by David Pyke)
SAN ANTONIO - North Texas mounted a furious second-half rally to erase a 15-point deficit, but couldn't come up with one more score this year and suffered a heart-breaking, season-ending 34-27 loss to UTSA Saturday at the Alamodome.
"I'm really proud of the way we fought today," North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. "Our expectation is to win, and that's what's so hard right now, and why I feel so bad for these seniors and John Skladany (retiring defensive coordinator). They helped us change the culture and the expectations around here. Losing is unacceptible.
"But from an effort standpoint, anybody who watches his team and believes in North Texas should be really proud of what these guys gave us. We came up a little short, but they gave us everything they had."
Trailing 27-12, the North Texas defense got key plays from James Jones, Lairamie Lee and Conference USA's leading tackler, Derek Akunne, to slow the Roadrunners and give the offense a chance to get back in the game, and the Mean Green offense responded. Two second-half touchdowns - made possible by tough running from Jeffrey Wilson and clutch passes from Andrew McNulty to Marcus Smith, Carlos Harris and Darius Terrell - pulled North Texas within two at 27-25 with 12:12 to play, and a McNulty-to-Terrell two-point conversion pass evened the game at 27-27.
But UTSA, which made one big play after another Saturday, went back on top with a three-play, 54-yard drive highlighted by a 30-yard pass and a 21-yard touchdown run with 4:18 to play.
North Texas could not answer on its ensuing possession, and had one last chance when it forced UTSA to punt with 2:09 to play. The punt was short and bounced backwards to the 50-yard line, but the Mean Green's Zac Whitfield tried to scoop the ball up. Instead, he bobbled the ball, UTSA recovered the fumble, and ran out the clock.
Wilson, the true freshman running back from Elkhart, Texas, has seen his role in the North Texas offense increase in recent weeks, and he topped the century mark rushing for the first time in his career Saturday, carrying for 105 yards on 19 carries, including a fourth-quarter tote on third and one in which Wilson carried defenders 20 yards to the UTSA one-yard line to set up the game-tying touchdown.
McNulty, meanwhile, had a career-high 287 yards passing and a TD.
The first half was a mix of missed opportunities for North Texas and big plays with big payoffs for UTSA. Four times the Mean Green moved into scoring position - two on long drives and two on UTSA botched punt returns that North Texas recovered. But every NT third-down play in scoring territory failed to pick up a first down, forcing the Mean Green to kick four field goals by Trevor Moore.
UTSA, meanwhile, happily traded NT field goals for Roadrunner touchdowns.
"They were getting touchdowns and we were getting field goals, and, in the end, that was the difference," McCarney said.
North Texas surrendered a TD on the opponent's opening drive for the fifth time this season, then fell victim to UTSA plays. A UTSA fourth-and-one play-action pass went for 30 yards to set up its second touchdown, and a 47-yard run followed by a 27-yard pass at the end of a wild scramble by quarterback Tucker Carter set up a third first-half Roadrunner TD for a 20-12 halftime lead.
What They Said
"He's a talented guy. He can run, he's tough, he'll put his nose in there, and he's got acceleration and speed. He's got a chance to be a special player."
--McCarney on freshman running back Jeffrey Wilson
"He grew up today. He's a tough son of a gun. Our quarterback play has been inconsistent all season, but talk about toughness and heart and perseverance, McNulty did that today."
--McCarney on junior quarterback Andrew McNulty
• Place kicker Trevor Moore's four first-half field goals set a school record for most field goals in a first half. Moore, the true freshman from Edmond, Oklahoma, finished the year making 36-of-36 extra points, one shy of the school record, and 15-of-17 field goals, breaking the North Texas record set by Garrett Courtney in 1997.
• Saturday's game was the final of the 34-year coaching career of Mean Green defensive coordinator John Skladany, who is retiring at the end of the season. Skaladany has been coaching since 1981, and has been at North Texas since 2012.
• North Texas recorded its second-straight winning month of November, going 3-1 in its final four games.
• Linebacker Derek Akunne finished his senior season with a Conference-USA leading 108 tackles, and his career with 308 tackles.
• The Mean Green's versions of Cal Ripken ended their collegiate careers Saturday. Senior offensive linemen Cyril Lemon and Mason Y'Barbo each started 49 games in a row since their freshman season - including every game North Texas has played at Apogee Stadium.
• The offensive line also loses two more key seniors in Antonio Johnson, who finished with 43 starts after missing Saturday's finale due to injury, and Shawn McKinney, who started every game this year and concluded his career with 14 starts.
• But next year's North Texas offensive line will continue to have a long game-starting streak. Center Kaydon Kirby will enter his junior year next season with a streak of 25-consecutive starts.
• Mean Green tight end Marcus Smith scored his team-high sixth TD of the season on a spectacular 31-yard catch over the back of a defender in the third quarter.
• Junior wide receiver Carlos Harris was over 100 yards receiving for the third time this year. He had 131 yards on 10 receptions.
• Senior wide receiver Darius Terrell had career-highs in receptions and receiving yards with five catches for 78 yards, including the game-tying two-point conversion early in the fourth quarter.
• North Texas recorded its 33rd sack of the season and has 72 over the past two seasons, the second-most over two years in North Texas history.
• On the team's journey south Friday, one of the North Texas team caravan's four buses was involved in a motor-vehicle accident on I-35 just outside San Antonio. A pickup truck, going much faster than advisable in heavy traffic, failed to keep a proper lookout, failed to adequately control its speed, and failed to properly apply its brakes when it darted between Bus No. 2 and Bus No. 1 but didn't leave nearly enough room for such a maneuver and slammed into the back of the Mean Green's lead bus. There were no injuries, only a minor scrape to the rear bumper of Bus 1, and all three following buses were able to stop suddenly without adding to the accident. The pickup, however, suffered substantial front-end damage. That's what happens when you don't pay attention in physics class.
The underclassmen will be spending lots of time with strength and conditioning guru Frank Wintrich as the off-season conditioning program kicks into gear. And in just 67 days, its national-signing day on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015.