North Texas Falls In Title Game, 41-17
FAU Again Overwhelms Mean Green In First Half
BOCA RATON, Fla. - Whatever North Texas learned about Florida Atlantic from that first meeting in October did not translate into improved results in December.
The Mean Green, playing in their first Conference USA Championship game, surrendered big plays on FAU's first five possessions while the North Texas offense was shutout in the first half, plunging the Mean Green into a 34-0 deficit on the way to a 41-17 loss.
The Owls, who earned home-field in the title game by way of a 69-31 win over North Texas (9-4) in October, dug into the playbook Saturday. FAU (10-3) continued to have success with the weapons that wrought such havoc on North Texas previously, highlighted by a 166-yard, three-touchdown performance by running back Devin Singletary, but it also unleashed trick plays and misdirections, striking for plays of over 30 yards on each of its first five possessions.
FAU had a play of over 40 yards on its opening three drives but FAU came away with only 10 points, settling for a field goal and missing a second kick from 30 yards to keep North Texas in the game.
The Mean Green responded with its first sustained drive, getting a 27-yard run from quarterback Mason Fine and moving to the FAU 35 before stalling. North Texas lined up for a 53-yard field goal and tried a fake, but the pass attempt fell incomplete.
And that was the end of the Mean Green's chances. FAU drove again, again hitting North Texas for a big play and again penetrating deep into UNT territory, this time finishing the march with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 17-0 lead. North Texas followed with its third three-and-out in four possessions, and FAU flew down field on a 51-yard pass to set up another field goal and a 20-0 advantage.
FAU finished the first half with an interception of North Texas Mason Fine at the Owl goalline, returned to midfield to set up a fifth scoring drive. By halftime, Owls had already rolled up 382 yards total offense.
As it did in the first meeting, FAU took away the Mean Green's running game and their top receiving threat, Jalen Guyton. The North Texas ground game was held to 37 yards in the first half and 85 for the game, and Guyton, held without a catch in October, didn't have a reception until the third quarter and finished with one catch for 6 yards. FAU also pressured Fine relentlessly, sacking him five times in the first half and nine times on the day, breaking the C-USA title-game record.
North Texas regrouped and played much better in the second half, although not before the Owls increased their 27-0 halftime lead to 34-0 early in the third period. The Mean Green mounted and completed two scoring drives in the third quarter, including a touchdown on a 77-yard catch and run by Turner Smiley to set a C-USA title game record for longest reception.
The Mean Green's comeback hopes had a pulse early in the fourth quarter after Fine led a 62-yard drive, capped by a one-yard Evan Johnson TD run and a two-point conversion in which Fine was forced to retreat to the 20-yard line before heaving a prayer into the end zone that bounced off a scrum into the hands of Rico Bussey, Jr., to cut the gap to 34-17.
The Owls, however, put to rest thoughts of an epic rally, turning to their run game to safeguard the lead with a 71-yard, 10-play touchdown drive.
North Texas will learn on Sunday in which bowl game it will play. The announcement will be made on MeanGreenPostseason.com, MeanGreenSports.com and @MeanGreenSports on Twitter. MeanGreenPostseason.com will have complete details, including ticket information.
- Senior running back Jeffery Wilson, who suffered a foot injury against Army, has not played since and was on crutches Saturday, was one of the Mean Green's captains for the opening toss.
- Senior defensive back Kishawn McClain passed Lance White (1983-86) for seventh place in career tackles at North Texas. McClain has 328 tackles, besting White's 325.
- Senior Trevor Moore took over another top spot in the Mean Green record book, this time for field goals made in a season. Moore has 19 this year, tying Keith Chapman's 19 makes in 1989.
- Sophomore quarterback Mason Fine is up to sixth place at North Texas in career completions and career passing yards. Fine has 449 completions in just two years, moving ahead of Scott Hall (2000-04) with 422, and has 5,332 yards to move ahead of Giovanni Vizza (2007-08) with 5,146 yards.
- Fine's 77-yard touchdown pass to Turner Smiley in the third quarter was the longest in Conference USA Championship game history and matched the Mean Green's longest pass play of the season.
- North Texas has 298 pass completions this seasons, the third most in a single season in school history.
- Fine had the seventh 300-yard passing game of his career, tying him with Derek Thompson for most in program history.
- Redshirt junior linebacker E.J. Ejiya recorded 1.5 sacks and has a team-high 7.0 on the season.
- Sophomore wide receiver Rico Bussey, Jr., caught a career-best eight passes for 109 yards
Bowl selection. On Sunday afternoon, Dec. 3, North Texas will find out in which bowl it will play. The announcement will be made on MeanGreenPostseason.com, MeanGreenSports.com and @MeanGreenSports on Twitter. MeanGreenPostseason.com will have complete details, including ticket information.