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North Texas’ win over Rice a turning point in #NewDenton

North Texas’ win over Rice a turning point in #NewDenton

North Texas’ win over Rice a turning point in #NewDenton
September 28
10:26 2016

During Seth Littrell’s weekly press conference Tuesday, he tried to downplay the significance of North Texas’ double-overtime win against Rice University. He said every win is important. But deep down, I think Littrell knows what the win over the Owls meant to his program in the long run.

Come on, coach, we saw how y’all celebrated.

All across Mean Green fandom are signs of hope – signs we have not seen since the 2013 season. North Texas had a similar win that year, when it defeated Ball State University at Apogee Stadium 34-27. Trailing 27-16 at the end of the first half, the Mean Green defense pitched a shutout to finish the game.

The loss was one of only three Ball State suffered that season. They played in the GoDaddy Bowl, and finished the year 10-3. They were good.

It showed the Mean Green weren’t half bad either, as they finished off the year with a Heart of Dallas Bowl victory just up the road at the Cotton Bowl.

While this Rice team the Mean Green just knocked off may not be the caliber of the 2013 Ball State team, I think this was a turning point for #NewDenton.

Why? Well, it actually looked like a new Denton.

Freshman quarterback Mason Fine marched the offense down the field for three impressive touchdown drives. The longest was a nine-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a wonderfully weighted ball into the end zone that junior running back Willy Ivery dove and caught.

That could have never happened last year.

The best DaMarcus Smith ever put up last year was 25-for-45 for 234 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He was a junior.

Fine finished 17-for-29 for 224 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions against Rice.

More importantly, Fine is doing his job. He’s navigating the offense while minimizing mistakes, despite a struggling offensive line that forces him to maneuver outside the pocket on occasion.

Another reason the Mean Green appeared to turn a corner Saturday was the fact they were able to seal the deal and get the win.

Even though the defense looked shaky giving up 17 points in the first quarter, the team battled back.  If this team had a double-digit deficit last year, forget about it. You could have kept the teams in the locker room because the Mean Green were not coming back.

But this is a new team, and sometimes it isn’t about how you start, it’s how you finish. The defense finished. They forced three fumbles and grabbed an interception, not to mention their effort on the final play, where they stuffed Rice on fourth and inches. Even more impressive, they did it in double-overtime and on the road.

Guts.

It was pure guts and determination to blow that play up and win the ballgame.

When you get tested on the road and overcome, it does wonders for a locker room. The celebration was pandemonium. It meant a lot to the guys in green. They now have invaluable experience to carry with them as the season goes on.

The defense did its job, and so did the offense. Ivery and junior Jeffrey Wilson pounded the ball on the ground, leading to a career day for Wilson. The receivers stepped up with 17 total catches between eight players for 224 yards. The offense went blow-for-blow with Rice in overtime.

As it stands, North Texas is 2-2 at the end of September. Through four games, the Mean Green has doubled its win total from 2015. The win against Rice gives North Texas momentum before Middle Tennessee State University comes to town on Saturday,  a team Littrell has called “elite.”

If the Mean Green want to make a bowl game, they will have to beat two of the Conference USA powerhouses. Saturday is a perfect opportunity to catch Middle Tennessee off guard, and move one step closer to playing football in December.

Featured Image: Junior running back Willy Ivery runs the ball against Bethune-Cookman. Colin Mitchell

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Clay Massey

Clay Massey

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