A Look Back At NT Football History: 1946 Optimist Bowl
Odus Mitchell Leads Mean Green to First Ever Bowl Victory
In honor of the 1,000th game in Mean Green football history Saturday against Florida Atlantic, we are highlighting five of the top moments, in no particular order, in the team's history.
North Texas vs. College of the Pacific
Houston Public School Stadium - Houston
Dec. 21, 1946
DENTON - Left scrambling to find a head coach with only a couple weeks left before the 1946 season, North Texas football's post-World War II program revival was off to a rocky start, but several months later the school would be celebrating its first bowl victory in one of the greatest seasons in NT football history.
After one head coach backed out at the last minute, North Texas tabbed four-year high school coach Odus Mitchell to restart the football program. Little did North Texas know Mitchell would go on to be the winningest coach in school history.
In a 1982 interview, Mitchell recalled the whirlwind start to the 1946 season.
"It was nearly time for the season to start," he said. "I hadn't done any recruiting or anything, and I hadn't had an experience with recruiting. I got initiated like heck the first game."
Texas A&M trounced North Texas in Mitchell's first game at the helm, 47-0.
But things turned around quickly.
Mitchell got his first collegiate victory the next game with a 14-0 win over Austin College. Two weeks later, the squad beat Fort Sam Houston.
Three wins later, North Texas was geared up for a showdown for the Lone Star Conference Championship with rival East Texas State, now known as Texas A&M-Commerce.
North Texas exploded for a 47-7 victory and was headed to its first bowl game in program history.
Mitchell was set to square off with legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg's College of the Pacific Tigers in the 1946 Optimist Bowl.
The game was scoreless through the first quarter, but NT got on the board in the second when Ned McNeil intercepted a Pacific pass and ran it 58 yards back for a touchdown.
Pacific tied the game in the third on a five-yard touchdown pass following a fumble recovery deep in North Texas territory.
The Tigers' broke the tie late in the fourth quarter on a 22-yard touchdown pass, but a key miss on the extra point gave North Texas some life.
NT then drove down the field to give the school its first ever bowl victory.
The drive began with a long kickoff return, a 20-yard gain through the air, a lengthy quarterback run and a couple Tigers penalties, making it first-and-goal from the Pacific nine-yard line.
After three failed pass attempts, North Texas was down to its last chance.
NT hall of fame running back Billy Dinkle, who frequently took snaps at quarterback for the 1946 squad, stayed back and threw a pass to wide receiver Louis Rienzi in the end zone to tie the game.
Dinkle, also the kicker, then won the game himself by putting the extra point through the uprights with only seconds left, giving North Texas the 14-13 lead and victory.
Mitchell went on to win an incredible 122 games at North Texas, took the team to 14 winning seasons and led the school's efforts in integrating the team in 1956, making it the first team in Texas to allow African-American student-athletes.
Mitchell was selected for the NT Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 1981 and the Optimist Bowl-winning team boasted several other hall of famers as well including Dinkle, tackles Felton Whitlow and Dick Lindsay, defensive linemen Jim Cooper and Jim Eagle and starting quarterback Fred McCain.
Mitchell, now a member of the Texas Hall of Fame, took North Texas to the Salad Bowl the very next season, but nothing could compare to the scrappy 1946 team that rallied around him and won the Optimist Bowl in his first season.
This concludes the installment of the five of the top moments in North Texas football history.
Previous Games: 1975 vs. Tennessee, 1977 vs. SMU, 2002 New Orleans Bowl, 2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl