North Texas honored its last team to win a bowl game during its homecoming contest with Arkansas State on Saturday.
That New Orleans Bowl victory over Cincinnati in 2002 is fading into memory almost as quickly as the Mean Green’s last win over the Red Wolves, a longtime Sun Belt Conference rival it will leave behind next season when it moves to Conference USA.
UNT came into its game against ASU having lost seven straight to the Red Wolves. That slide reached eight when Ryan Aplin and ASU rolled to a 37-19 win at Apogee Stadium in the teams’ last meeting for the foreseeable future in front of a crowd of 17,534.
Aplin torched UNT for 328 passing yards and two touchdowns to lead ASU, which became bowl-eligible with a win over the Mean Green for the second straight season.
“Good teams play with lots of confidence,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said. “You get through some setbacks or tough times or tough series and still find ways to excel and win games. That is where we are very fragile. We don’t have real strong, thorough confidence.”
ASU, the defending Sun Belt champion, had that confidence and overcame a few mistakes and an early deficit to roll past the Mean Green, which hasn’t beaten the Red Wolves since 2004. UNT is the first opponent ASU has beaten eight straight times.
The latest of those losses was particularly tough to take for UNT because it came in such a critical game late in the year.
The Mean Green (3-6, 2-3 Sun Belt) came into the day hoping to pick up a key win and bolster its bowl hopes, not to mention break the curse of the Red Wolves (6-3, 4-1) that has lingered over the program for most of its time in the conference.
That opportunity slipped away and left UNT teetering on the edge of being eliminated from the bowl picture. The Mean Green will have to win its last three games and beat two bowl-eligible teams in Louisiana-Monroe and Western Kentucky on the road to win six games and break a streak of seven straight losing seasons.
“The season’s not over,” UNT linebacker Zach Orr said. “We still have three games left. If we can win these next three, that would put us at 6-6 and you never know what could happen. Coach Mac builds this program on finishing strong. That is what we are going to try to do these next three weeks.”
Finishing was what gave UNT problems against ASU on a night it couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start.
Freshman defensive back Rocky Hayes fumbled the opening kickoff on the goal line and then kneeled on the ball in the end zone. Officials originally signaled for a touchback, but awarded UNT a safety after conferring.
The Mean Green led 9-7 after quarterback Derek Thompson scored on a 2-yard run late in the first quarter, but then the game got away from UNT.
Aplin threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone. The Red Wolves also picked up the only turnover of the first half when UNT running back Jeremy Brown fumbled late in the second quarter.
UNT didn’t score its second touchdown until the third quarter after ASU had gone up 30-12.
“We had an opportunity,” Thompson said of the early stages of the game. “They are a good football team. When you have an offense like they do, we have to step up as an offense and keep them off the field. We didn’t do that.”
UNT’s offensive struggles proved to be costly when ASU quickly pulled away.
Aplin scored on a 5-yard run and connected with tight end Kedric Murry for a 4-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter, when ASU outscored UNT 20-3.
ASU was up 30-12 at halftime, which signaled trouble for UNT.
The Mean Green came into the game averaging just 21.0 points a game.
UNT attempted a season-high 49 passes on the night, including two by backup Brent Osborn when Thompson left the game briefly with a knee injury.
UNT just didn’t make enough big plays, despite rolling up 400 yards, and clearly missed wide receiver Brelan Chancellor. The junior playmaker was lost for the season last week in loss to Middle Tennessee with a broken collarbone.
Thompson threw for 316 yards to lead UNT, but the Mean Green couldn’t keep up with ASU. The Red Wolves took UNT out of its game plan to run the ball, control the clock and keep Aplin and his receivers off the field.
“We didn’t run the ball well, and when you’re North Texas and can’t run the ball it’s going to be a long day,” McCarney said.
It’s a familiar feeling for UNT when it comes to games against ASU, which tacked on one more victory to its record streak over the Mean Green and dealt its longtime rival a critical blow to its bowl hopes.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
ASU all aces vs. UNT
Arkansas State has won eight straight games against North Texas, the Red Wolves’ longest winning streak over any single opponent in program history. The following is a look at the run:
2012 — ASU 37, UNT 19
2011 — ASU 37, UNT 14
2010 — ASU 24, UNT 19
2009 — ASU 30, UNT 26
2008 — ASU 33, UNT 28
2007 — ASU 31, UNT 27
2006 — ASU 29, UNT 10
2005 — ASU 31, UNT 24