There were times in the past when a game like the one North Texas found itself in with Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday night would slip away.
UNT would make the big mistake instead of the big play and be left to sit and wonder what could have been.
This time UNT seized the chance to post a big win and came away with a 30-23 victory at Apogee Stadium in front of a crowd of 17,055.
The fact that the win came in a rare national television appearance on ESPN2 made the victory all the sweeter – not to mention more important – for the Mean Green, which has now won back-to-back Sun Belt Conference games.
“This is a big win,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said. “It’s a great victory for North Texas. I’m happy for the guys. We’ve got a long way to go, but it’s a great win, and I’ll take it. The bottom line is that we stepped up and made plays when we had to and that resulted in a win.”
No one made a bigger play than Antoinne Jimmerson, who came through just when it looked like the game could slip away from the Mean Green (3-4, 2-1).
UNT was backed up at its own 22-yard line with just over two minutes remaining, facing a third-and-8 situation.
Quarterback Derek Thompson swung the ball to Jimmerson out of the backfield. The former DeSoto standout did the rest, weaving his way through the ULL secondary on his way to the end zone for a 78-yard touchdown.
The play was the highlight of a breakout night for UNT’s offense that racked up 524 yards, its highest total since posting 583 yards in a game against Western Kentucky in 2009.
Thompson threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns in his fifth straight 200-yard passing performance.
Brandin Byrd added 88 rushing yards, while Jeremy Brown posted 72.
“We were able to get the ball to a lot of different people,” Thompson said. “I think that kept their defense guessing.”
Thompson connected with seven receivers and four different players posted at least 35 rushing yards, but it was Jimmerson who made the biggest impact. He scored on both of his receptions on the night that covered 28 and 78 yards and also added 35 yards on the ground.
UNT rushed for 242 yards against ULL, which came into the game allowing an average of just 107.2 rushing yards allowed a game.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (4-2, 2-1) had won five straight against UNT, a streak the Mean Green knew it would snap when safety Marcus Trice recovered a fumble by ULL running back Effrem Reed on the Ragin’ Cajuns final possession
ULL came into the night in a three-way tie atop the Sun Belt standings and had dropped just one game all-season, a 65-24 loss to Oklahoma State.
The Ragin’ Cajuns had scored at least 24 points in each of its games before running into a UNT defense that bounced back from a tough 44-21 loss to Houston last week to post one of its best outings of the year.
UNT held ULL to 371 yards, most of which came on a 265 passing yards from Ragin’ Cajuns quarterback Terrance Broadway.
ULL led 20-6 early in the third quarter before UNT outscored the Ragin’ Cajuns 24-3 the rest of the way.
“I was disappointed in our play in the second half defensively,” ULL head coach Mark Hudspeth said. “We didn’t take advantage of some situations where we had them pinned deep.”
UNT scored 17 unanswered points and took a 23-20 lead on Zach Olen’s 22-yard field goal at the 11:44 mark of the fourth quarter.
The Ragin’ Cajuns answered after taking over at the UNT 47-yard line with 4:53 left.
ULL pushed the ball to the UNT 34-yard line before the Mean Green made a stand and forced the Ragin’ Cajuns to attempt a field goal.
Brett Baer connected from 47 yards out with 3:01 left.
UNT trailed 13-6 at halftime, thanks to its defense, which made a few key stands and forced the only turnover of the first half to keep the game close.
ULL scored first on a clock-draining 14-play, 83-yard drive that Reed capped with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Broadway scored the only other touchdown of the half when he broke free on a 75-yard touchdown run.
ULL found the end zone just once the rest of the night.
“Our technique was better and our coverage was better,” McCarney said. “We started collapsing the pocket and that put some pressure on their quarterback in the second half.”
UNT was also much better offensively in the second half after squandering several opportunities and settling for a pair of Olen field goals, including a 24-yard kick following a key defensive play by Zach Orr. UNT’s middle linebacker jumped up and intercepted a Broadway pass to set up the Mean Green at ULL’s 37-yard line.
UNT blew another chance to score after driving to the ULL 2-yard line late in the first half, where the Mean Green faced a fourth-and-1 situation. UNT elected to go for the first down, but had to reconsider when tight end Tanner Smith jumped offside.
UNT finally got on track in the second half after squandering yet another opportunity deep in ULL’s end of the field.
Brandin Byrd was cut down on fourth-and-goal from the ULL 1-yard line.
UNT forced the Ragin’ Cajuns to punt and quickly converted when Jimmerson scored on a 28-yard pass from Thompson.
The Mean Green’s defense came up with another stop and gave its offense another short field to work with. UNT took over at the ULL 34-yard line and scored two plays later on a 34-yard touchdown run by Brelan Chancellor.
“We started off slow and were down in the first half and were down at the half, but we came out in the second half and were a different team,” Thompson said. “We didn’t change much at the half. We stuck with what got us here.”
UNT could have easily let the win slip away at that after ULL tied the game up late, but came up with the key play on Jimmerson’s touchdown catch on a night the Mean Green wanted to put its best foot forward on national television.
“We wanted to showcase this university and showcase this football team,” Thompson said. “We dug down deep and did it.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
NORTH TEXAS 30, LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE 23
ULL -- Reed 1 run (kick failed), 5:37.<
NT -- FG Olen 25, 7:08.
ULL -- Broadway 75 run (Baer kick), 6:53.
NT -- FG Olen 24, :52.<
ULL -- Peoples 10 pass from Broadway (Baer kick), 12:35.
NT -- Jimmerson 28 pass from D.Thompson (Olen kick), 5:04.
NT -- Chancellor 34 run (Olen kick), 3:42.<
NT -- FG Olen 22, 11:44.
ULL -- FG Baer 47, 3:01.
NT -- Jimmerson 78 pass from D.Thompson (Olen kick), 1:54.
A -- 17,055.
Time of Possession
RUSHING_Louisiana-Lafayette, Broadway 5-84, Reed 11-19,Peoples 1-6, Team 2-(minus 3). North Texas, Byrd 22-88, J.Brown 11-72, Chancellor 3-44, Jimmerson 8-35, D.Thompson 6-9, Team 2-(minus 6).
PASSING_Louisiana-Lafayette, Broadway 26-41-1-265. North Texas,
RECEIVING_Louisiana-Lafayette, Peoples 7-56, Brown 6-40, Lawson 5-78, Surgent 4-38, Robinson 2-22, Maxwell 1-24, Reed 1-7. North Texas, Delgado 5-84, Power 4-46, Byrd 3-17, Jimmerson 2-106, Chancellor 1-10, Miller 1-10, D.Smith 1-9.