When North Texas coach Seth Littrell sat behind the mic for Saturday’s post-game press conference, he immediately acknowledged the Apogee Stadium crowd at the start of his opening statement.
A program record 29,519 fans watched the Mean Green beat rival SMU 46-23 in UNT’s first game of the season. The previous record was set Sept. 6, 2003, when a crowd of 29,437 witnessed UNT beat Baylor 52-14 at the old Fouts Field across the highway from Apogee Stadium, which became the Mean Green’s home in 2011. The previous Apogee Stadium record was 28,075, set Sept. 10, 2011, in the first game at the venue.
“First off, I want to say how much I appreciate tonight’s crowd,” Littrell said. “The fans were unbelievable. Our players really got to feed off that energy, and I think that’s the reason why we got a lot of our success early.”
Quarterback Mason Fine had to quiet the crowd on a short-yardage situation for the offense but also gestured for fans to get louder on several occasions.
“I’m glad we can come out here and kind of give them a show,” Fine said. “You know, set the standard that that’s how it’s gonna be. That’s how we’re gonna play here at Apogee. We’re not gonna come let anyone come in here and beat us. We’re gonna protect our house and give our fans a show.”
Hall’s interception highlights stellar defensive performance
If the crowd wasn’t the reason behind UNT’s quick start, then the Mean Green defense could get the credit.
After UNT won the toss and deferred to the second half, SMU got the ball first from its own 25-yard line and just went backward. The Mustangs loss 14 yards before punting after a three-and-out. Pretty much the same thing happened on SMU’s next possession, as the Mustangs went nowhere during another three-and-out. UNT held SMU to six three-and-outs in the game.
“Coach (defensive coordinator Troy) Reffett always talks about start fast,” linebacker Brandon Garner said. “Honestly, that’s just what we did. We didn’t really think about it. They came out in the same stuff we seen in practice everyday. We just executed our assignment and alignment. It just all fell in our hands, man.”
Garner tied with fellow linebacker E.J. Ejiya for a team-leading 3.5 tackles Saturday night, including a sack and tackle-for-loss. But despite Garner and Ejiya’s constant pressure on SMU quarterback Ben Hicks, cornerback Kemon Hall highlighted the defense’s performance with a 36-yard interception return for a touchdown on the Mustangs’ third possession.
“When I made my break it was perfect,” Hall said. “I had my eyes on it. I just cuffed it and went on, just ran.”
Fine ignoring personal achievements after career night, focused on team goals
While Fine and Garner tried to decide where to sit among the three chairs at the post-game press conference, Garner insisted that Fine sit in the middle chair because he was the star.
Fine tossed a career-high 444 yards against SMU, the second 400-yard performance of his career. He also threw three touchdowns on 40-of-50 passing on his way to being deemed the game’s MVP before being pulled early in the fourth quarter.
As usual, Fine didn’t actually answer the question when asked about his performance, continually referring to “we” and crediting his team’s hard work at practice. He then listed how his receivers, offensive line and running backs benefited not only him but the entire offense.
“Individual goals is to win every game and to win championships,” Fine said. “My individual goals are in alignment with our team goals. I’m trying to be the best player I can be for this team to win games. That’s all it is. Stats and all that stuff will come later. Just do your job and let everything else take care of itself.”