BOCA RATON, Fla. — North Texas head coach Dan McCarney made it tough on Zach Olen this week.
First McCarney declared Olen’s job as UNT’s starting kicker open to competition, and then he challenged him in practice to win his spot back after he missed a pair of field goals last week in a loss to Troy.
That strategy paid off Saturday during the Mean Green’s 20-14 win over Florida Atlantic at FAU Stadium.
Olen hit both of his extra points and both of his field goals that counted. He also made two that were taken off the board due to penalties during an odd, time-killing drive late in the second half.
“I want to thank all the coaches and players for encouraging me and believing in me,”
Olen said. “They were real supporting during the week.”
That support paid off from the early stages of the game.
Olen hit a 48-yard field goal and both of his extra point attempts. Those makes set up an odd series at the end of the game.
UNT was up 17-14 and drove to the FAU 18-yard line, where Olen drilled a 36-yard field goal attempt that was taken off the board when FAU was flagged for a personal foul, giving the Mean Green a first down.
UNT failed to pick up a first down and called on Olen again, who hit from 39 yards. The score was waved off when FAU was flagged for roughing Olen while trying to block his kick.
The Mean Green stalled out again before Olen hit a 28-yarder that stood and put FAU in the position of having to drive for a touchdown to win the game in the closing eight minutes.
FAU failed to convert.
“I am really proud of Zach.” McCarney said. “We opened up the competition to three kickers like we said we would, and he won it. He stepped on the field with tremendous confidence. You could see the look in his eye that, no matter when or where, he was going to make it. Those three points came off the board a couple of times, but he kept coming in there and stroking it right down the middle.”
UNT’s veteran players never lost confidence in Olen and were happy to see him on the field in key situations against FAU.
“We don’t want anyone kicking the football for us other than Zach Olen,” UNT quarterback Derek Thompson said. “I want to make that very clear. He worked all week. We put so much pressure on him this week, tonight was a piece of cake.”
Well, maybe not quite a piece of cake.
Olen admitted that having to kick three key field goals in succession without getting credit for the first two was a little stressful.
“I wish it would have stayed on there the first time,” Olen said. “It was good to have the practice, and when it counted, I made it.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.