MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (10/25/03) The unlikely big-play combination of junior quarterback Scott Hall and sophomore receiver Joel Nwigwe sparked North Texas to a hard-fought 33-28 Sun Belt Conference win over Middle Tennessee Saturday night that keeps the Mean Green atop the conference standings as the Sun Belt’s only unbeaten team.
Hall and Nwigwe hooked up for two long pass-and-catch plays for touchdowns to lift North Texas to its 15th consecutive victory over a Sun Belt opponent a streak that began three years ago in a win over the Blue Raiders.
Saturday’s win against MTSU previously the only other unbeaten team in Sun Belt play puts the Mean Green at 4-0 in conference play and 5-3 overall. Middle Tennessee drops to 2-1 and 2-6 overall.
“I’m very proud of the players,” said North Texas head coach Darrell Dickey. “Middle Tennessee is a very good team. They came out ready to play. We were fortunate to get some breaks and make some plays at the right time. The kids never lost their focus and kept battling.”
Hall and Nwigwe connected for touchdown pass plays that covered 63 and 47 yards. They marked the first TD pass receptions of Nwigwe’s career at North Texas and couldn’t have come at a better time. The 63-yarder came at the end of the third quarter after MTSU had pulled to within six points, and the 47-yard play midway through the fourth quarter came after the Raiders had trimmed NT’s lead to 26-21.
Junior running back Patrick Cobbs also turned in another outstanding game carrying the ball, scoring one touchdown and rushing 32 times for 133 yards. And a pair of Nick Bazaldua field goals, including a career-long kick from 49 yards out, also helped North Texas take another step towards a third straight conference title and trip to the New Orleans Bowl.
North Texas was in a position to lock the game up when an interception by cornerback Markeith Knowlton with 7:34 left stopped the Blue Raiders following Nwigwe’s second TD.
But a fumble by Cobbs resulted in MTSU taking over at its 20-yard line with 3:49 on the clock.
The Raiders drove down and scored on a one-yard run with 1:31 left to pull within five points. Their onside kick went out of bounds, however, and North Texas gained possession at the Mean Green 49 yard line. NT was able to run out the clock from that point to seal the win.
North Texas took a 20-7 lead into halftime after Bazaldua connected on a 25-yard field goal with just 45 seconds left before the intermission. It was Bazaluda’s second field goal of the opening half and third attempt.
A high snap contributed to Bazaldua missing a 34-yard attempt on North Texas’ opening series of the game. But at the 10:10 mark of the second quarter, the sophomore kicker connected on a career-best 49-yard field goal that pushed the Mean Green out to a 17-0 lead.
North Texas gained control of the game with two touchdowns within a span of 1:50 near the end of the first quarter. On their second series of the game, the Mean Green drove 80 yards in 13 plays with Cobbs busting in on the right side for a three-yard touchdown run with 1:53 left in the opening quarter.
After the NT defense held MTSU in check on its next possession, an errant snap on a Blue Raiders fourth-down punt formation resulted in NT’s James Mitchell falling on the loose ball in the end zone for a Mean Green touchdown with 0:03 on the first-quarter clock.
Middle Tennessee’s only score in the first half came on a 15-play, 87-yard drive that chewed up 5:32 of the second quarter. The Raiders scored on a nine-yard swing pass play from Andrico Hines to Jerrin Holt with 4:36 left that cut the Mean Green’s lead to 17-7. The scoring drive was the longest of the season for an opponent against the NT defense.
But on the following kickoff, NT’s Kevin Moore returned a short kick into MTSU territory, where the Mean Green offense got into position for Bazaldua’s second field in the final minute of the first half.
North Texas now steps out of conference play this week when the Mean Green will host future SBC member Troy State in a special Thursday night game at Fouts Field. The 6:05 p.m. game will be regionally televised on an ESPN Regional broadcast.