Mean Green use offense and special teams to stave off Blazers rally, win C-USA opener

Mean Green use offense and special teams to stave off Blazers rally, win C-USA opener

September 23
22:57 2017

With 27 seconds left in regulation, the defense once again could not keep the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s offense out of the end zone. UAB (2-2) scored and converted the extra point, bringing the game to a 43-43 tie.

On the ensuing kickoff, North Texas (2-2) freshman running back Evan Johnson caught the ball on the right side of the field but did not see an immediate hole. He burst to the left and finally found the opening he was looking for along the left sideline.

Johnson crossed midfield and wasn’t tackled until he reached the UAB 44-yard line with 17 seconds to go.

From there, senior running back Jeffery Wilson took the handoff and navigated through the Blazers’ defense as he had all game, taking the ball to the 10-yard line. After a defensive penalty moved the ball to the five, senior kicker Trevor Moore trotted onto the field and did what he always does from extra-point range.

Split the uprights.

The kick won the Mean Green the game 46-43 and saved the North Texas defense from a 14-point collapse in the final six minutes Saturday night.

“Our guys had a lot of grit and determination,” head coach Seth Littrell said. “We faced a lot of adversity in the second half but they fought and overcame it.”

In the first half, the Mean Green defense held UAB to just 14 points and forced an interception and three punts on six drives. It was a solid performance for a defense that partnered with the North Texas offense to give the Mean Green a seemingly commanding lead at the half.

The next two quarters were a different story.

The Mean Green defense conceded 29 points and nearly let the game slip away with its shaky performance.

“[The defense] has to overcome that adversity,” Littrell said. “We weren’t very disciplined again in the secondary in the second half. We have to do a much better job of playing smart.”

Two of those undisciplined plays came at the hands of cornerback Nate Brooks, who bit on the same hitch-and-go route twice –  once at the end of the second quarter, and again in the closing minutes of the third.

However, even the defensive struggles were not enough to cost North Texas the lead after the first quarter.

That’s how effective the offense and special teams units were.

“We came out with a gameplan and we executed it really well,” sophomore quarterback Mason Fine said. “We were balanced like we wanted to be, ran the ball well and we had success throwing the ball.”

Fine continuously evaded pressure and found open receivers down the field. Seven different receivers had receptions, and the offense was clicking on all cylinders.

One of those pivotal weapons was senior running back Jeffery Wilson who put up season-high numbers. He had 211 yards and 8.1 yards per carry, allowing the Mean Green to win the time of possession battle and helping the defense stay fresh early.

“The offensive line played their tails off,” Wilson said. “Even through the adversity we faced, they still kept me up and motivated.”

Along with the offense elevating their play in the win, special teams proved to be the difference in the end.

Moore went 4-for-4 on field goals and the only special teams’ mishap came when UAB managed to block an extra point. North Texas responded with a blocked punt in the second half and recovered the ball inside the UAB 20-yard line.

Jaelon Darden also had a solid performance as the lone punt returner, a spot in need of consistency after the early season woes.

“I’ve been confident in our special teams,” Littrell said. “I felt like we were much more consistent this week, not only on kickoff return but punt return [as well], which was really good to see.”

The defense struggled giving up the big play all night, but senior linebacker Joshua Wheeler said the win made those mistakes a little more tolerable. Fortunately, the offense and special teams stepped up.

“In a defense like this, if one person [messes up], it’s going to look bad,” senior linebacker Joshua Wheeler said. “But it’s alright, we got the win. You come out and get that first conference win and it’s a confidence boost for anybody.”

Featured Image: North Texas sophomore wide receiver Jalen Guyton points at the referee after he scored a touchdown against the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Colin Mitchell

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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