Top Moments of 2016: Double Overtime Stand At Rice

July 14, 2017

DENTON - Over the next few weeks, each Friday will look back on some of the top moments of the 2016 Mean Green football season.

We continue the series in Houston in late September, as the Mean Green opened conference play at Rice. North Texas came into action at 1-2, having lost 32-0 at No. 23 Florida the week prior. It was key for the Mean Green to begin conference play in a strong fashion, or potentially see the season start to devolve into disappointment.

Things didn't look good early, as Rice jumped out to a 17-0 lead after one quarter. The resilient Mean Green fought back, trading blow for blow to tie things at 28-28 and force overtime. After the teams traded scores in the first OT, North Texas grabbed a 42-35 advantage, courtesy of a Willy Ivery rushing touchdown. That helped set the stage for our next top moment.

On first down, Rice quarterback Tyler Stehling tried to hit running back Darik Dillard on a screen, but the pass was broken up by Mean Green linebacker Calvin Minor at the line of scrimmage.

Second down. Stehling hits Zach Wright on an out route for a pickup of eight yards. Thanks to Kishawn McClain's shove out of bounds, Wright was unable to get to the first down marker.

On third and short Dillard, who carried 19 times on the day, was stuffed for just a one-yard gain as Roderick Young made a big play to force fourth-and-inches.

With the game hanging in the balance, and the Mean Green leading by a touchdown, it felt like everyone knew what was coming.

"As a group before the play we all knew this was going to be a run based on their formation," nickelback Ashton Preston said. "We knew we could trust our corners on the outside to take care of their business and in the huddle BG [Brandon Garner] and KMac [Kishawn McClain] were telling us to just go on the snap. We knew it was all or nothing and we knew how important this game was to open conference."

"Pre-snap just looking at their formation we knew they had run this formation four times during the game," linebacker Brandon Garner said. "Each time they had run the same play out of it, where the tackle goes into the A gap and they run from their right, my left."

As the play unfolded, it was Dillard again who got the call for the Owls. Garner shot the gap and dipped his left shoulder to avoid the pulling right tackle, who completely missed on his block. Garner's penetration allowed him to make initial contact, wrapping Dillard up by the ankles some three yards behind the line.

Preston and defensive end Jareid Combs then found their way to Dillard, each coming from a different side, combining to bring Dillard down well behind the line of scrimmage to seal the win for the Mean Green.

"I knew if I made contact and held him, someone was going to come," Garner continued. "That's when AP [Ashton Preston] and [Jareid] Combs showed up and it was a wrap after that."

Looking a little deeper, a major assist on this play goes to Young, who set the line of scrimmage by getting a strong push on the center. Combs also had a really big push on his side, remaining engaged with the guard long enough to alter the path ever so slightly of the pulling tackle. The combination of those factors, plus Garner's decisive move to shoot the gap, helped make the play.

While all that transpired, to Preston's left, linebacker Cortney Finney took on his blocker, and plugged the gap on his side, leaving Dillard no choice but to try his luck up the middle. Preston was able to get around the edge to meet Combs at Dillard to clean things up and finish the play.

After that, there were a lot of white jerseys flooding the field, celebrating North Texas' first conference road win since November of 2013 (at Tulsa), snapping a 14-game road losing streak in the process.

"As a team, we were able to fight through despite being down 17-0 early," Garner said. "We didn't point fingers at each other, our coaches told us to stay positive and we did, which helped us come out with a big victory."

The win helped lift North Texas to 2-2 and a 1-0 start in conference play. It was the first in a stretch of three wins in four games, riding the momentum to a 4-3 start to the season with convincing wins over Marshall and Army.

"This game really showed the chemistry that we had and the camaraderie on this team," Preston said of the Mean Green's performance. "That is carrying over into this year. We know that whenever we get into adverse situations, it is okay. We know that we've been in that position before and we will be able to just play and not focus on any negatives. That win was huge for us and was a huge confidence booster for us as we continued our season."

Top Moment Honorable Mention: Running back Jeffery Wilson's 75-yard third quarter touchdown run that put the Mean Green on top, 21-20. Wilson took a sweep to the left side and got behind big Elex Woodworth, who picked up a huge block at the 32-yard-line. In addition to Woodworth's key block, wide receiver Kenny Buyers picked up a big block from the slot, taking the linebacker out of the play completely. Wilson's burst around the corner did the rest, as he hit the afterburners to pick up his second of a career-high three touchdowns on the day.

The Mean Green enter fall camp on July 30, with report day. Stay tuned each of the next two Fridays before camp for some more of the top moments from last season.



North Texas Mean Green