North Texas’ 21-13 loss to UT-San Antonio on Saturday at Apogee Stadium will be a costly one.
The Mean Green (7-4, 5-2 Conference USA), which harbored hopes for a berth in the Conference USA title game, fell a game behind Rice in the Western Division with only one game left in the regular season.
The loss, along with Tulane’s win over UT El Paso, knocks the Mean Green out of the C-USA championship conversation.
The defeat also prevents UNT from registering what would have been just the second undefeated home schedule in school history.
But for the senior-laden Mean Green roster, the most immediate cost was the sting of dropping their final home appearance.
“It was definitely a tough day for us seniors,” linebacker Zach Orr said. “We didn’t play well at all, starting with myself. It’s very disappointing.”
Orr, the team’s leading tackler for the past three seasons, registered 10 against UTSA, one of which came in the Roadrunners’ backfield.
“It’s freaking embarrassing, what we did out there,” junior offensive lineman Mason Y’Barbo said. “We let down these seniors, who deserve to go out on top, and it won’t happen again.”
The most glaring discrepancy came on third down. The UNT defense allowed UTSA (6-5, 5-2) to go 14 of 20 on crucial drive-extending plays, while North Texas only managed six third-down conversions on 15 attempts.
“[UTSA] had way too much consistency and efficiency on third down,” UNT coach Dan McCarney said. “I thought they dominated us many snaps on third down.”
The Roadrunners’ decisive scoring drive encapsulated UNT’s struggles. After Mean Green kicker Zach Paul connected on a 21-yard field goal that made the score 14-6, UTSA put together a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Eric Soza’s 10-yard touchdown run.
Along the way, the Roadrunners converted on four third-and-long plays, including the touchdown, which came on third-and-7 with 8:12 left to play.
“That was really the time that we needed to rise up, and we have so often on defense,” McCarney said. “We’ve got to get a stop, get off the field, get their punter on the field, and we didn’t get it done.”
UTSA opened with a seven-play drive that was capped by Kam Jones’ 40-yard touchdown run on a stretch play to the right. The Roadrunners converted their first two third-down chances to set up the score.
UNT also wasted good field position on two drives that ended in field goals. Marcus Trice intercepted a pass in UTSA territory late in the first quarter that put North Texas at the Roadrunner 30-yard line. Trice’s blocked punt late in the third also set UNT up with great field position at the UTSA 40, but the Mean Green failed to find the end zone on either opportunity.
In fact, 56 minutes elapsed before UNT scored a touchdown. After falling down 21-6 on Soza’s 10-yard touchdown run, UNT’s offense showed signs of life on an eight-play, 68-yard drive that ended on quarterback Derek Thompson’s 6-yard touchdown toss to tight end Drew Miller, who dove to the pylon with 5:38 left to bring UNT to within one score.
The Mean Green got one more shot at a game-winning drive with 1:12 left. Darnell Smith, who finished with 13 catches and 115 yards, nabbed a 25-yard reception to UTSA’s 3-yard line with one second remaining.
On the final snap, Thompson was looking Smith’s way again, but his pass to the end zone was intercepted by cornerback Bennett Okotcha.
North Texas will travel to play Tulsa on Saturday in the regular-season finale.