Top Moments From 2017 - The Drive
A Look Back At North Texas' Thrilling 98-Yard Game-Winning Drive Against UTSA
As fall camp approaches, with players reporting on August 2, MeanGreenSports.com takes a look back at some of the biggest moments from the 2017 season. Stay tuned each Wednesday as MeanGreenSports.com relives each of these key moments from the nine-win season last year. We kick off our series with The Drive.
With 1:07 left in the fourth quarter, UT San Antonio leads North Texas 26-22 on Oct. 14 and the Roadrunners just pinned the Mean Green at their own two with no timeouts remaining.
That’s when quarterback Mason Fine orchestrated a touchdown drive in less than a minute, to lead North Texas to a thrilling 29-26 win over their rival from San Antonio.
Fine completed 5-of-6 passes on the drive, to pen his first signature moment at North Texas in arguably the biggest win to date of the Seth Littrell era.
We’ll go more into the drive itself momentarily, but how did the situation arise? What allowed The Drive to become a reality?
First, the Roadrunners quieted the Apogee Stadium faithful by virtue of a 46-yard touchdown pass from Dalton Sturm to Jalen Rhodes with 3:29 to play to vault UTSA into the lead at 26-22.
Things looked up for the Mean Green after a personal foul on the Roadrunners set UNT at its own 40. A quick four-and-out however ceded control to the visitors with 1:28 to go in North Texas territory.
That’s when the Mean Green defense stood tall when they needed it the most. Aided by three timeouts, North Texas stuffed Rhodes for gains of three and four yards to set up a key third-and-three at the Mean Green 38.
The left side of the defensive line for North Texas got penetration, with linebacker Joshua Wheeler bursting through untouched to contain the outside of the weak side of the field. Roderick Young also collapsed the middle and caught Rhodes from behind for no gain, providing the North Texas offense with a chance.
UTSA punter Yannis Routsas made the task that much more difficult pinning the Mean Green deep in their own end. But that’s when Fine and the UNT offense put together an improbable 98-yard game-winning drive.
Fine connected with Michael Lawrence for a quick eight-yard gain over the middle to the 10 before picking up 10 more yards on a strike to Rico Bussey, Jr. on the left sideline. Following an incompletion, Fine was flushed to his left and heaved a 49-yard strike to Lawrence over a pair of defenders down the home sideline to get the ball to the UTSA 31.
Following a Roadrunners timeout, Jaelon Darden then caught a nine-yard pass from the slot. Fine clocked the ball, and there was 17 ticks left on the clock.
With the ball on the 22, North Texas came out with trips to the right and Bussey split left. UTSA brought the house, while dropping a defensive lineman into a zone. Fine read his hot receiver, which was Bussey, who ran a drag over the middle. Fine took a monster hit from the blitzing defensive back, but was able to connect with Bussey over the middle at about the 18.
Bussey turned upfield and headed toward the sideline. Jalen Guyton sealed off a pair of defenders and Bussey did the rest. The Lawton, Oklahoma, native outran Devron Davis and turned the corner to get into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
North Texas took the lead with 10 seconds to spare and held on for the thrilling 29-26 win to open conference play at 3-0. The Mean Green went on to finish 7-1 in conference and won the C-USA West division.
What they said:
QB Mason Fine – “Our coaches always say to believe that as long as there’s time and downs on the clock, we have a chance. We ran out there, did our two-minute drill and that we work on every day in practice and we just went out there and executed. On the play we had, Rico was my second read and they blitzed and he was my hot, so I threw it kind of on blind faith, not sure if he was going to be there or not and he caught it and made a play on it. I didn’t know we had scored until they told me in the little huddle with the trainers.”
WR Rico Bussey, Jr. – “I saw them coming down on the blitz and I knew I had to look hot and I saw Mason look at me. Then I just saw the ball come out and just tried to score.”
Head Coach Seth Littrell – “He [Fine] had to stand in there against cover zero. It put us in a position where he was going to have to make a competitive play and he did. He stood in there extremely well and got the air knocked out of him there, but he threw an unbelievable pass and Rico did a great job catching the football and then going to find the end zone. I couldn’t really see across the field but I was hoping he was going to get out of bounds if he didn’t have a path obviously. Once he hit the corner, upstairs they let me know he had it, so it was a great feeling.”
WR Coach Joel Filani – “They brought more than we could block and they’re saying we’re going to hit you before you get the ball off. Rico was the hot read on that one and was going shallow. We saw they were in man, we were looking at what we could do from a true man standpoint. When they brought seven, Mason didn’t throw it to Rico immediately, he kind of held on to it, allowing Rico to get around the defensive end who had dropped out. Mason’s hit while he releases the ball and Rico was able to pluck it. My immediate thought was to get out of bounds, but as I’m looking there’s nobody out there, so now it’s time to go score. It was kind of surreal where you ask yourself ‘where is everybody?’ Rico had great awareness to see that and find his way to the end zone. It was great execution.”