North Texas brought back elements of the jerseys from the best eras in program history Saturday when the school celebrated the 100th anniversary of its program during its season opener against Idaho.
The Mean Green’s players wore helmets with the eagle logo from the Hayden Fry era and the shade of green from the uniforms the Mean Green wore during its four-year run as Sun Belt Conference champions beginning in 2001.
For at least one night, the Mean Green looked a little like those teams, not just because of what they wore but how they played as well.
Derek Thompson came up with one of best games of his career and UNT’s defense dominated in a 40-6 win over the Vandals at Apogee Stadium.
“It means a lot to me and I think it did to the players as well, because you think about all the great players and all the guys who have pulled on uniforms here,” UNT coach Dan McCarney said. “We wanted to say thanks to all of them. The least we could do was go out there and play real, real hard and hopefully win a game. That’s what we were able to do.”
No one played a bigger role in making sure all the legends on hand, including “Mean” Joe Greene, saw UNT roll to a win in its opener than Derek Thompson.
The senior, who wasn’t named the starter until Monday, threw for a career-high 349 yards while completing 23 of his 27 pass attempts.
Wide receiver Brelan Chancellor added 283 all-purpose yards for UNT, which finished with 591 yards of offense, the third-highest total in program history.
“I just wanted to come out and put on a good show,” Thompson said.
Thompson carved Idaho’s secondary with surgical precision. By the end of the night, 12 UNT players had caught passes.
McCarney pulled Thompson from the game late, giving freshman Dajon Williams a chance to gain experience. The move is one McCarney said he would make earlier in the week.
By the time he made it, the game was essentially over, thanks to the way Thompson played early on.
That show began after UNT got off to a slow start.
Idaho took an early 6-0 lead behind quarterback Chad Chalich, who hit Michael LaGrone behind UNT’s secondary for 59 yards and tossed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Jake Manley two plays later.
The Vandals recovered an onside kick on the ensuing play but failed to cash in.
UNT quickly took control, running off 26 straight points to close out the first half behind Thompson and Brandin Byrd.
Byrd capped a nine-play, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run and capped the half with a 27-yard touchdown run.
Thompson hit on arguably the play of the game between those runs when he sidestepped an oncoming defender and found Chancellor behind Idaho’s secondary for an 85-yard touchdown strike.
UNT continued to pour it on the rest of the way, while the Mean Green’s defense shut Idaho down. Chalich threw for 230 yards to lead Idaho, which couldn’t crack UNT’s defense.
Idaho never got on track after scoring early and lost three fumbles.
Safety Lairamie Lee recovered two of those fumbles on a night UNT honored legends of the past with its first season-opening win since 2009.
The game was a milestone for UNT for a number of reasons. It marked not only UNT’s 100th anniversary, it also was its first as an official member of Conference USA.
Several members of UNT’s all-century team traveled to the game and were honored at halftime.
Some of them spoke to UNT’s players before kickoff and then watched the Mean Green roll to a win in its season opener for just the third time since 1997.
“Seeing all the all-century players out there on the field and having them come up and talk to us before the game was great,” UNT linebacker Zach Orr said. “That meant a lot to us. It was great that we could get a win in front of them and win our home opener.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.