MANHATTAN, Kan. — A pair of old Hayden Fry assistants turned back the clock Saturday night in an old-fashioned grind-it-out game.
North Texas head coach Dan McCarney and Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder learned that style of football from Fry during their decade together as assistants at Iowa beginning in 1979.
In the end, it was that pounding style that helped the Wildcats wear UNT down and pull away for a 35-21 win after the Mean Green put up an early fight at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
In the first quarter, Kansas State totaled minus-1 yard after running six plays on two possessions, as UNT jumped out to an early lead.
That advantage was short-lived against the 15th-ranked Wildcats. Kansas State was just too strong and too talented and pulled away from the Mean Green (1-2) for their third straight win to open the season.
“It was an honor to coach against him again,” McCarney said of Snyder. “It always has been and always will be. It’s an honor to coach beside him for 10 years and an honor to coach against him.”
McCarney and his players believed they had a chance to pull off what would have been a monumental upset and kept the game close until Kansas State scored 21 consecutive points beginning in the third quarter.
UNT will look back and lament those touchdowns and a few critical mistakes that allowed Kansas State to pull away.
Kicker Zach Olen had a field goal blocked and missed an extra point for UNT, which drove into Kansas State territory four times without scoring.
“We moved the ball all over the place and had a great game plan,” said UNT quarterback Derek Thompson, who led UNT with 208 passing yards. “There were just key moments where we didn’t execute.”
The most costly of those moments came in the first half.
UNT dominated the first quarter statistically and played well defensively throughout the first half, but went into halftime down 14-7.
The Mean Green jumped out to a 7-0 lead on a 6-yard end-around run by wide receiver Brelan Chancellor.
Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett took the ensuing kickoff, beat UNT’s coverage unit to the sideline and scored on a 96-yard return.
That was the first of several mistakes on special teams for UNT.
“Special teams were a liability all night,” McCarney said. “They really hurt our football team.”
The Wildcats took their first lead when Tramaine Thompson hauled in a 38-yard touchdown pass from Collin Klein to cap a half when UNT squandered several key chances.
Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller sacked Derek Thompson for an 11-yard loss that knocked UNT out of field goal range after the Mean Green reached the Wildcats’ 28-yard line. Kansas State defensive tackle Vai Lutui later blocked a 45-yard Olen field goal attempt.
UNT appeared as if it would overcome those early mistakes and tie the game on its opening possession of the third quarter when Antoinne Jimmerson scored on a 1-yard run to cap a 14-play, 88-yard drive, but Zach Olen missed the extra point, leaving Kansas State with a 14-13 lead.
Kansas State took over from there. Tramaine Thompson caught a 21-yard pass from Klein to give the Wildcats a 21-13 lead.
Klein finished with 315 total yards for Kansas State, which spoiled McCarney’s latest showdown with Snyder.
“We are disappointed,” UNT linebacker Zach Orr said. “We came in here expecting to win the game.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.