ATHENS, Ohio — North Texas coach Dan McCarney spoke in the days leading up to the Mean Green’s game at Ohio about his admiration for the Bobcats and their head coach, Frank Solich.
Ohio, McCarney said, was a team he could tell knew how to win when it came down to crunch time.
The Bobcats’ 27-21 victory over the Mean Green on Saturday night at Peden Stadium was just another example.
UNT (1-1) came back from a 14-point first-half deficit to tie the game up, only to see the Bobcats (1-1) methodically chew up the clock and choke the life out of the Mean Green.
Ohio rolled 10 minutes and 20 seconds off the clock in the fourth quarter on 10- and 11-play drives that both ended in field goals.
“That is a winning formula by a team that knows how to win and has won consistently over the years,” McCarney said. “It’s the mark of a good team. We are closing the gap on some really fine programs, but it’s not OK to lose. It’s a horrible feeling.”
UNT came into the night looking to start 2-0 for the first time since the 1994 season and win back-to-back games for the first time since 2004.
UNT appeared as if might reach those milestones heading into the fourth quarter.
The Mean Green had come all the way back from a 21-7 deficit and tied the game at 21 on a pair of touchdown passes from Derek Thompson.
The senior hit Carlos Harris from 31 yards out and then hit Darnell Smith for a 6-yard touchdown that tied the game at 21 with 12:44 left.
Thompson threw for 195 yards and two touchdowns, while Smith finished with nine catches for 89 yards.
“We built some momentum in the second half,” Smith said. “That was our plan. We started off too slow. Things were picking up for us, but we have to finish.”
UNT didn’t have much of a chance to finish in the fourth quarter, not with the way Ohio grabbed the ball and slowly ran out the clock.
Ohio slowly marched 56 yards in eight plays on its first possession of the final period, converted on third-and-1 with a Ryan Boykin 1-yard run and went up 24-21 on a Matt Green 38-yard field goal.
UNT went three-and-out on its next possession.
Ohio put UNT away with an 11-play, 62-yard drive that ran 5:44 off the clock before Green tacked on a 22-yard field goal.
Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton led Ohio on both of its late scoring drives and finished with 239 passing yards and two touchdowns. Boykin rushed for 93 yards, while Beau Blakenship added 83.
That trio helped Ohio jump out to a 21-7 halftime lead after it scored on a pair of big plays, including an interception return that swung momentum in its favor late in the half.
Tettleton put the Bobcats up 7-0 when he found Chase Cochran behind UNT’s secondary for a 75-yard touchdown pass on the opening play of the game.
UNT came back to tie the game at 7 on an Antoinne Jimmerson 3-yard run before Ohio scored the last 14 points of the half. Ryan Boykin caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Tettleton before Javon Johnson intercepted a Thompson pass and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown.
UNT struggled offensively in the first half and failed to capitalize on three drives into Ohio territory. Running back Reggie Pegram fumbled at the Ohio 27-yard line, Zach Paul missed a 44-yard field goal and UNT was forced to punt after reaching the Bobcats’ 38-yard line.
UNT needed to find its rhythm again offensively in the fourth quarter after coming back to tie the game and came up short. The Mean Green’s last chance came when it got the ball back with 83 seconds left. By then it was too late.
Xavier Hughes intercepted a Thompson pass, leaving the Mean Green to ponder a series of missed opportunities on a night it turned the ball over four times.
UNT safety Marcus Trice intercepted a pass and returned it to the Ohio 18 before fumbling. The Mean Green recovered and tied the game, but couldn’t come up with another play when it needed one defensively at the end of the game.
“We fought back and gave it everything we had,” Trice said. “That makes it even tougher. We didn’t take advantage of a couple of opportunities that we had.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.