DALLAS – North Texas made its return to the postseason a memorable one with a New Year’s Day 36-14 victory over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl presented by PlainsCapital Bank.
The Mean Green put a cap on a remarkable 9-4 turnaround season on a perfect afternoon at the historic Cotton Bowl. North Texas won a bowl game for the first time since 2002 and finished with at least nine wins for the first time since 2003.
“Really proud of my football team,” North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. “I dreamed of a day these seniors could go to a bowl game and win a bowl game. I really dread the day when I have to say goodbye to them. But we’ll cherish this season. We’ll cherish today.
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“And every time that I think about this football team the first names that will come to mind are these 22 seniors and they’ve led with class and integrity and pride and loyalty, and unbelievable examples today of how you play the game and how you win a football game. Really proud of my guys. Thanks to our fans, great support. We sent a message today. I think this is a program that’s clearly on the rise.”
That’s exactly what the caretakers of the UNT program had in mind when hiring McCarney three years ago. Mean Green football is back.
“This is not the end,” McCarney shouted to the Mean Green faithful from the
on-field trophy presentation. “It’s only a beginning.”
North Texas senior quarterback and Derrick Thompson closed his career as a starter by throwing for 256 yards and two touchdowns to win the Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP. Wide receiver Brelan Chancellor added two rushing touchdowns.
“It’s such a special experience to be able to come down here, play close to home in front of our fans,” Thompson said. “You saw the kind of support the team brought. It was so exciting running on the field and seeing a sea of green. UNT has supported us all year. It’s been great. We love our fans.
“All the amenities that come with a bowl game, that’s great and all, but we were here for one mission and that was to win the bowl game. We never lost sight of that. We did what we had to do. We came out and finished in the second half. It was a great team win.”
The 22-point margin of victory was easily the largest in a bowl game for North Texas. The Mean Green improved to 3-5 all-time in bowls.
The Mean Green defense was able to contain UNLV (7-6) after the Rebels scored on their first drive of the game. UNLV managed just 262 yards of offense, well short of its regular-season average of 423.8 yards.
Rebels quarterback Caleb Herring passed for 196 yards and two touchdowns, but was virtually shut down for the majority of the game before throwing a meaningless fourth-quarter score. UNLV ran for only 66 yards for an average of 2.4 yards per carry.
The Mean Green took their first lead at 14-7 by grinding out a 12-play, 60-yard drive in the third quarter. UNT converted four third downs, including Thompson’s 7-yard touchdown pass to wide-open tight end Drew Miller.
North Texas added two more long scoring drives to put the game away. Chancellor had 3-yard touchdown on the opening play of the fourth and Thompson found receiver Darnell Smith from 34 yards out midway through the quarter.
The Mean Green tied the game late in the first quarter after recovering a fumbled punt return at the UNLV 42. Running back Antoinne Jimmerson powered in from 1-yard line eight plays later.
McCarney believes the performance of the first day of 2014 can be a springboard for the season to come.
“It’s just a jolt of confidence and something to really show for everyone’s hard work, especially the sophomores and juniors have seen how these seniors have led and forged this path for them,” he said. “And as the juniors become seniors as of tomorrow, they’ll enjoy this forever, and remember it forever, cherish it forever, but in less than two weeks we’ve got to get ready for the season of 2014.
“So that lasting memory from how we got here, to this day, the things you have to do to get here led by these seniors, what a great example for not only the underclassmen but for future teams.”