After a 28-16 Win Over Rice Last Night, North Texas Is Bowl-Eligible.
It was a phenomenal environment. That's all anyone could talk about during last night's game at the Apogee Stadium in Denton.
The praise was just. For one thing, the 22,835 University of North Texas fans that attended the game last night made up the largest crowd the team has played to at home all season long. But it wasn't just the size of the crowd that impressed. It was its enthusiasm, too: From the game's initial kickoff and running through its final drive, Mean Green fans — many dressed in Halloween costumes — were remarkably rowdy and boastful about their team. And they were loud, too.
Better yet, they had reason to be: North Texas won its fourth game in a row last night, beating conference opponent Rice University 28-16 to move to 6-3 on the season and 4-1 in Conference USA. The win also guaranteed the Mean Green an at least .500 record on the season, making this squad the school's first bowl-eligible football team since 2004.
And the fans truly deserve at least some credit for the team's effort. Encouraged by the team's three-game winning streak heading into last night's game and enticed by the fact that last night's game was televised nationally by Fox Sports 1, the turnout was exactly what the university had been waiting on since hiring head coach Dan McCarney in late 2010 and opening the 31,000-capacity Apogee Stadium opened in 2011. It seems winning (and, OK, a little national attention) changes everything: When the Mean Green beat Ball State 34-27 in Denton earlier this year, a paltry 14,000 fans were on hand at the stadium, cheering the team on.
Last night's crowd couldn't have been more different from that Ball State crowd. And, in turn, the fans' enthusiasm was rewarded with a display of tough, hard-fought football by the Mean Green, who wore special all-black uniforms for the first time.
North Texas scored off three big plays in the first half: After a fumble forced by safety Marcus Trice, linebacker Zach Orr scooped up the ball for a 55-yard return for touchdown in the first quarter; in the second quarter, running back Antoinne Jimmerson broke off a 42-yard touchdown run that was quickly followed only minutes later by a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown by wide receiver Brelan Chancellor after the North Texas defense forced a quick Rice three-and-out.
From that point on till the final second, North Texas' defense clamped down. The team shut out Rice in the second half — most notably with a gallant, nine-play goal line stand after a North Texas holding penalty reset the downs. On the final play of the stand — a fourth-and-goal play at the North Texas two-yard line, — defensive back Lairamie Lee walloped Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue for an 11-yard sack after a wild scramble in the backfield.
Thursday night was what the University of North Texas has been working toward for a long time — and it happened in dramatic fashion.
The football team emerged victorious in last night's game, sure. But, for the North Texas football program, last night was a win in more ways than one.