North Texas Outlasts Old Dominion in Shootout with Clutch Fourth Quarter Defense

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Photo: Sara Carpenter/TexasHSFootball

DENTON — Coming off a 69-31 blowout loss, the North Texas Mean Green earned a 45-38 win at home over the Old Dominion Monarchs in a back-and-forth affair.

Scoring came in bunches early on, but it was the North Texas defense that made the biggest difference in the final 15 minutes. After Old Dominion (0-4, 2-6 C-USA) took their first lead of the game at 38-35 late in the third quarter, the Mean Green (5-3, 4-1 C-USA) forced a fumble on a sack and followed up with fourth-down stops on four consecutive possessions to end the game.

Sara Carpenter/TexasHSFootball

“It showed their grit,” North Texas head coach Seth Littrell said. “It was a great way to bounce back this week. Up front, our guys were doing their job on the line of scrimmage.”

Defense for both sides was shaky for most of the game. Both touchdowns for Old Dominion in the first half came on kickoff returns by Isaiah Harper, one going for 97 yards and the next for 98. Meanwhile, North Texas had everything working. Mason Fine completed all but one of 15 passes in the first quarter, and Mean Green running backs Jeffrey Wilson and Nic Smith combined for three touchdowns in the first half.

“Mason played at a high level tonight,” Littrell said. “He saw the defense really well and was confident in his throws.”

Evan Johnson put together an impressive performance for North Texas. He found the end zone two times, the first coming on a six-yard run to open the second quarter. He then took a fumble recovery 40 yards for another score following a blocked punt by the Mean Green special teams unit.

Sara Carpenter/TexasHSFootball

Johnson and Smith took the majority of the snaps in the backfield after Jeffrey Wilson left the game due to a neck injury. Littrell said he expects Wilson to be back for next week’s game. Smith got 18 carries in his absence, rushing for 72 yards and two touchdowns.

“I just come every day prepared to work,” Smith said. “When they call my number, I’m ready.”

In the passing game, both Rico Bussey and Jalen Guyton brought in seven receptions a piece. It was a career-high for Bussey, who also topped 100 receiving yards for the first time, including a 34-yard score in the first quarter.

Old Dominion stayed in the game thanks to an efficient rushing attack. Jeremy Cox averaged 4.5 yards per carry and scored a touchdown, and quarterback Steven Williams added 62 rushing yards. His 10-yard scamper and score to put the Monarchs ahead 38-35 was the first rushing touchdown of his career. Williams also finished with 181 yards passing, but threw two interceptions that ended potential scoring drives.

Overall, the Mean Green were not completely satisfied with the victory.

“We’re always excited to get a win, but we have a long way to go,” Littrell said. “They found a way to win at the end, and they competed.”

Mason Fine had a similar take after the win. “I’m tired of learning how to win close games,” Fine said. “I want to learn how to put teams away.

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