UNT football’s comeback attempt falls short against Cal

Mason Fine became the all-time touchdown passes leader in North Texas football history Saturday, but the Mean Green came up short in their bid to upset the California Golden Bears, falling 23-17 in Berkeley.

Fine threw two touchdowns, giving him 71 in his career at North Texas. He is now in his fourth season. Fine entered the game tied with Steve Ramsey, who threw 69 TDs during his time as the Mean Green quarterback (1967-69).

Fine’s second touchdown pass of the game, an 18-yarder to Jyaire Shorter, pulled the Mean Green to within six points with 2:59 to play. Then, after forcing the Bears to punt, UNT had one last chance starting at their own 35. However, after a penalty set them back 5 yards, the Mean Green could not move the ball, giving it back to Cal, which ran out the clock.

Fine also had a touchdown pass of 68 yards to Jaelon Darden to start the second-half comeback, closing the gap to 20-10 a minute into the third quarter.

The Mean Green (1-2) dug themselves into a 20-0 deficit after the first quarter as Christopher Brown Jr. scored on a 2-yard run for Cal, and Bears quarterback Chase Garbers threw a 36-yard TD to Nikko Remigio. The Bears (3-0) amassed 129 yards in the opening quarter, but after that, the North Texas defense held them to a field goal and 149 yards the rest of the game.

“We just executed better (in the second half),” UNT head coach Seth Littrell said. “We got in a rhythm on offense and defensively, we just settled in. We have to understand to just take it one play at time and do your job and don’t let emotions of the early game get you down. As we got more comfortable, we attacked better.”

Fine also surpassed 10,000 career passing yards, extending his lead as the active leading passing passer in FBS.

The North Texas defensive effort was led by sophomore linebacker KD Davis, who had a career-high 13 tackles, with two for a loss and a sack. Junior defensive lineman Dion Novil had a career-high eight tackles, including and three for a loss with a sack.

The UNT offense, after totaling 100 first-half yards, racked up 229 second-half yards. Fine finished with 210 yards through the air, completing 21 of 40 passes with an interception. Shorter, a redshirt freshman, had career highs in both catches (five) and yards (68) in the absence of leading receiver Rico Bussey, Jr., who left the game early on with an injury.

Deion Hair-Griffin also caught three passes after entering with just one reception in two-plus seasons.

“He did a nice job and stepped up,” Littrell said of Shorter. “Deion made a couple of huge catches to help us move the chains. When one guy goes down, the next guy has to step up, and so does the team. It’s not about one guy. It’s about the totality of everyone. We’ll get guys to step up, and hopefully we’ll get Rico back healthy.”

Also for UNT, redshirt sophomore running back Tre Siggers carried 18 times for 88 yards in his second game at running back after moving over from defensive back.

The Mean Green return home to Apogee Stadium next Saturday to face UT San Antonio in their Conference USA opener.