BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — North Texas didn’t have arguably its most explosive offensive player for its game against Western Kentucky on Saturday.
WKU did, and it saw Antonio Andrews make the plays that made the difference in the Hilltoppers’ 25-24 win at L.T. Smith Stadium.
Andrews rushed for 230 yards and a touchdown. He essentially passed on picking up another score so that WKU could sit on the ball late and celebrate its seventh win — one that could send the Hilltoppers to a bowl game.
UNT didn’t have the chance to counter with one of its most explosive players in redshirt freshman running back Antoinne Jimmerson, who missed his second straight game with a shoulder injury that put him out for the season.
The Mean Green ran the ball effectively without Jimmerson at times, but didn’t make enough key plays to match WKU and Andrews.
“We didn’t run it as well as we wanted to in the second half, but they have a very good rush defense,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said. “We did some real positive things. The good thing is that most of the guys who did the blocking and the running will be back.”
That would include Brandin Byrd, who rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown to lead UNT. Jeremy Brown added 64 yards and a touchdown in his final game with the Mean Green.
UNT began the season using a three-back rotation that included Jimmerson. That rotation was cut to two players after Jimmerson was lost for the season in a win over South Alabama.
Byrd posted three 100-yard games in his junior season.
Jimmerson provided a perfect complement most of the year, averaging 5.0 yards a carry while rushing for 544 yards. His five rushing touchdowns and eight total touchdowns are team highs.
“Our offensive line played well,” Byrd said. “Once Antoinne went down, the rest of us knew that we had to step up.”
Byrd and Brown just couldn’t match the production of Andrews, who came into the day with 1,379 rushing yards. Andrews posted 323 all-purpose yards against UNT, pushing his streak of 300-yard games in that category to four.
Andrews rushed for 123 yards in the fourth quarter, when the Hilltoppers outscored UNT 15-0. His 53-yard run set up his game-winning 21-yard dash around the right end.
He then iced the game with a 35-yard run to the UNT 1-yard line, where he slid down so WKU could run out the clock.
“He’s a good running back,” UNT defensive tackle Tevinn Cantly said. “He gets north and puts his head down.”
WKU wins first-half field goal exchange
UNT let a chance to pull away from WKU in the first half slip away after a key stand by its defense.
The Hilltoppers picked up a first down at UNT’s 36-yard line on a pass interference penalty on Hilbert Jackson before UNT’s defense stiffened.
WKU went for the first down on fourth-and-7 from the UNT 33 and failed to convert when defensive end Aaron Bellazin came free up the middle and sacked Kawaun Jakes.
UNT took over and drove to WKU’s 32-yard line, but it had to settle for a 49-yard field goal attempt that Zach Olen pushed wide left.
WKU took over and drove 48 yards before cashing in with a 39-yard Garrett Schwettman field goal.
UNT forces fumble deep in its end
WKU appeared as if it might tie the score early in the third quarter when UNT led 17-10.
The Hilltoppers drove to the UNT 8-yard line, where Andrews carried the ball through the middle of the line before UNT safety Marcus Trice forced a fumble.
Officials ruled that Andrews was down, but the call was reversed on a video review.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.