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North Texas snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, beats UTSA 29-26

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Both teams had some explosive plays, and both teams had some key defensive stops, but the biggest play of the night was UNT’s last, a TD pass that must be seen to be believed.

NCAA Football: North Texas at Southern Mississippi Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone’s gonna be talking about that final TD pass.

This is to take nothing away from the other 59:43 of the game, which was as outstanding a C-USA game-- no, outstanding a college football game— as you’re likely to see this year.

On the opening drive, North Texas marched the ball down the field, putting them up 7-0 early against a stingy UTSA defense that just doesn’t allow that sort of thing. Right away, we knew we had a game, as UTSA’s first drive ended in a punt, and before you knew it, UNT was up 13-0 with a botched extra point.

But UTSA wasn’t just going to roll over. No one thought they would, especially not North Texas.

Dalton Sturm punched right through that Mean Green defense, scoring a touchdown before the first quarter could end, and then ten unanswered points in the 2nd, to put the Roadrunners up 17-16 at halftime.

This was already better than advertised, as both teams put up some great numbers, and both teams no doubt thought they could win this one down the stretch.

For North Texas, things appeared dire when the Mean Green again failed to score in the third quarter, a UTSA field goal making it 20-16 heading into the final period.

For UTSA, this was the defense doing its job, stopping Jeffrey Wilson (16 carries, 83 yards), and not allowing big plays.

The game almost turned into a snoozer by that point, suffering a 3rd-quarter loss of momentum as Sturm (13/24 for 215 yards) continued to make big plays, and the North Texas defense seemed to have few answers for standout Jalen Rhodes (19 carries for 71 yards, while receiving for 45 yards and a TD).

Then, at the top of the 4th, North Texas just suddenly woke up. After zero scoring since the 1st quarter, Mason Fine (20/34 for 354 yards) made it look easy, capping an 80 yard drive with a 32-yard TD pass to Jalen Guyton (8 receptions for 182 yards on the day). We hadn’t seen this team go long for most of the game at that point, and perhaps the 4th quarter rout was on. But there was no sleeping giant here, UTSA continued to get stops, and UNT’s next series ended in a punt.

And here is where the Roadrunner offense would shine. Down 22-20 after the missed PAT, UTSA would punt on their next drive but were patient, got the ball back, and drove 87 yards in nine plays, and put it in the end zone. They did miss the conversion, a big hit for the Roadrunners, after the two botched PAT’s from North Texas earlier in the game.

At that point, it was the respective defense’s time to get the job done. North Texas would turn the ball over on downs, followed by a 3-and-out for UTSA. Their ensuing punt was perfect. Downed at the two yard line, Mean Green fans couldn’t help but throw their hands up in despair. They’d been outplayed, outgunned. 98 yards with no timeouts, down by four? This was madness. Despite an uncharacteristically great season in 2013, North Texas fans have had little reason for optimism since 2004.

But surprising everyone, this team had the two-minute drill down, and they had it down cold. Conservative playcalling didn’t help UTSA’s case, but pass after pass, rushing back to the line for the next play, suddenly the Mean Green found themselves across midfield.

North Texas fans everywhere asked themselves the usual question: How are we going to screw this up?

But this is not the old Mean Green.

That’s Mason Fine connecting with Rico Bussey Jr., only his second reception of the game. Bussey finished with two catches and 32 yards, though did have two outstanding catches out of bounds, earlier in the game. Today, the coyote caught the roadrunner.

In 2013, North Texas had their championship run stopped by an upstart, Larry Coker-led squad. North Texas had never given the Roadrunners any reason to hurt. Until now.

The rivalry begins here, as UTSA fans are no doubt still in shock, questioning how they could allow that final drive— but get the dual comfort of knowing (a) they host Rice next week, and (b) they’ll be seeing the Mean Green at the Alamodome in just twelve short months.

North Texas, meanwhile, finds themselves at 3-0 in conference for the first time since that 2013 season, and must gear up for a trip to FAU and that Lane Kiffin offense on Oct. 21.