North Texas Edges Army

via University of North Texas

DENTON – Saturday night’s regular-season finale at Apogee Stadium turned into a quarterback duel: Mason Fine’s arm vs. Ahmad Bradshaw’s legs.

In a shootout eerily reminiscent of another battle in Denton with a service academy 10 years ago this month, North Texas’ Fine threw for 386 yards and four touchdowns and Army’s Bradshaw ran for 244 yards and two TDs. But it was Fine who had the last word, directing a 46-yard scoring drive in the final minute capped by a 39-yard Trevor Moore field goal with five seconds to play for a 52-49 Mean Green victory.

Denton, TX - November 18: North Texas running back Jeffery Wilson (3) during the game between the North Texas Mean Green and Army West Point Black Knights (Photo by Mark Woods/DFWsportsonline)

Image 1 of 26

Denton, TX - November 18: North Texas running back Jeffery Wilson (3) during the game between the North Texas Mean Green and Army West Point Black Knights (Photo by Mark Woods/DFWsportsonline)

“The three games we’ve had against them have been wars,” said North Texas coach Seth Littrell, whose team split two meetings with Army a year ago. “Playing games like that aren’t very good for your health. But this team perseveres and has each other’s backs. It’s awesome to see them pull these games out.”

North Texas took a 49-42 lead with 3:13 to play on a 78-yard touchdown pass from Fine to senior wide receiver Turner Smiley, but the Black Knights tied the game on a drive highlighted by Army’s lone pass completion of the game, a 27-yard toss on third and 6. Army, however, left Fine and North Texas 1:23 to win it.

Fine scrambled for a first down with 59 seconds to play, then hit Rico Bussey, Jr., for 14 yards to the Army 38 wth 19 seconds left. With no time outs remaining, North Texas lined up for a 49-yard field goal but, after an Army timeout to freeze Moore, the Mean Green choose to run another play.

“I felt good about Trevor’s range,” Littrell said. “But I wanted to discuss the situation with Mase. We had to be smart there, couldn’t take a sack. We just wanted to get a little closer.”

Fine connected with Smiley, who had three receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns and helped pick up the slack when Jalen Guyton left the game due to injury, for 10 yards to the Army 22, and Moore did the rest.

“He was clutch,” Littrell said of Fine. “That last drive, the execution was great. Mason doesn’t get rattled. He feeds off that pressure.”

The win snaps Army’s six-game win streak, extends the Mean Green’s win streak to four, and gives North Texas an undefeated record at home for the first time since 2003 and a 6-0 mark for the first time since 1966.

“For us to accomplish one of our goals of going undefeated at home, I’m really proud of our team and these seniors,” Littrell said. “The crowd was unbelievable, and this is the new standard of how we play at home.”

North Texas (8-3 overall) faced the dilemma all Army opponents must tackle: how to stop that relentless triple option, an offense that once dominated college football but has long since gone out of fashion so that most defenses rarely see it. A year ago at West Point, North Texas got a lead and turnovers to force Army to throw, but at the Heart of Dallas Bowl the Mean Green were consistently unable to put Army in long-yardage situations and were ground down.

Bradshaw, who became Army’s all-time leading rusher Saturday night, and the Black Knight running game was nearly unstoppable, gobbling up 8.0 yards per carry and piling up 534 yards on the ground. Army (8-3) attempted only three passes and didn’t complete one until the final two minutes of the game.

The Mean Green, however, got out front early, scoring on its first possession – on the first of running back Jeffery Wilson’s two touchdowns – and used a Taylor Robinson recovery of a fumbled Army punt return to open a two-score lead at 21-7.

But Army kept pounding away, driving for two more first-half touchdowns. North Texas answered once, but the Mean Green’s cushion slipped away just before halftime when the Black Knights turned away a North Texas scoring threat with an interception, limiting the North Texas halftime lead to 28-20. And Army got the ball to start the second half.

The Black Knight juggernaut quickly tied the game at 28-28, and the offenses traded touchdowns the rest of the half. The Mean Green offense overcame another injury in the third quarter when Wilson went down and did not return. Redshirt freshman Nic Smith stepped in, rushing for 32 yards and a score on a fourth-quarter scoring march.

Fine’s effort matched his career-best for touchdown passes and set the Mean Green’s all-time record for passing yards in a single season with 3,198.

“It just shows how far this team has come,” Fine said. “It’s not so much an individual record as a team record.”