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North Texas football wins at home on senior night to keep bowl hopes alive

North Texas football wins at home on senior night to keep bowl hopes alive

Junior offensive lineman T.J. Henson celebrates with junior Turner Smiley after Smiley scored a touchdown against Southern Miss. Colin Mitchell

North Texas football wins at home on senior night to keep bowl hopes alive
November 19
21:09 2016

With its season on the line Saturday night, North Texas football strapped its fans in for a roller coaster ride.

The Mean Green (5-6, 3-4) jumped out to a 20-0 lead, blew it, allowing the University of Southern Mississippi to score 23 unanswered points, and then came back to get the win 29-23.

Exhale.

With the victory, North Texas is in position for a play-in game next Saturday at the University of Texas at El Paso for a bowl berth. A win, and the Mean Green will go bowling.

But the game did not start well for North Texas. Graduate quarterback Alec Morris’ first pass was intercepted, which forced the Mean Green defense to make a stop. They did just that, though, and a few moments later, the Southern Miss (5-6, 3-4) kicker shanked a field goal to give the ball back to North Texas.

On the ensuing drive, the Allen native shook off his early mistake and heaved a double reverse pass downfield to set the Mean Green up deep in Golden Eagles territory. Unable to find the endzone, North Texas got its first points with a 26-yard field goal by junior kicker Trevor Moore to take a 3-0 lead.

Immediately after, North Texas got the ball back after sophomore defensive back Nate Brooks jumped the route for an easy interception. Morris then linked up with junior wide receiver Turner Smiley for a 17-yard touchdown pass after Morris feathered a pass into the corner of the end zone, with Smiley adjusting to make the catch and give the Mean Green a 10-0 lead.

The Mean Green added another touchdown via Morris to Smiley, this time from 55-yards out after a bit of trickery. On a surprise flea flicker, Morris hit a streaking Smily for a 55-yard touchdown pass to push the North Texas lead to 17-0. Moore tacked on another field goal with 10:42 to play in the half to make it 20-0.

Smiley’s first half outburst was a new career high in receiving, as he finished with six catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns

The Mean Green defense was near perfect in the first half, intercepting a pass and forcing two fumbles. Its lone blemish came as the second quarter wound down and Southern Miss’ junior running back Ito Smith punched the ball in from one yard out after junior receiver Allenzae Staggers threw a 47-yard pass on a trick play to set up a red zone situation.

And the Golden Eagles kept coming.

The junior busted off a 69-yard run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, and plunged into the end zone a few plays later to cut the Mean Green lead even more. The PAT hit the cross bar, however, and was no good, making the score 20-13.

From that point on North Texas’ defense struggled to wrap up Southern Miss’ ball carriers, and the Golden Eagles exploited it.

First, junior running back George Payne scampered in from 16 yards out after hitting the edge making it beyond the pylons to tie the game at 20. Southern Miss put up 23 unanswered points to make it a barn burner at Apogee Stadium in front of 19,120 fans. The Golden Eagles notched a 24-yard field goal after the Mean Green fumbled in the red zone to give them their first and only lead of the game.

But the Mean Green would not lie down.

After Alec Morris started the second half 1-for-6 with six yards, he strung together three consecutive completions, and junior running back Willy Ivery finished off the drive with a shake and bake 11-yard touchdown run. The Mean Green re-took the lead at 27-23, and never relinquished it.

Two huge defensive stops late in the game sealed the win for North Texas, and kept its bowl hopes alive.

Next up: North Texas travels to take on the University of Texas at El Paso at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Featured Image: Junior offensive lineman T.J. Henson celebrates with junior Turner Smiley after Smiley scored a touchdown against Southern Miss. Colin Mitchell

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Clay Massey

Clay Massey

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