TULSA, Okla. — In a year full of milestones, it only seemed appropriate that North Texas finish the regular season with several more, including the most important of all — its first win over Tulsa in 44 years.
Derek Thompson threw for 173 yards and moved past Steve Ramsey for second place on UNT’s career list and Brandin Byrd rushed for a career-high 251 yards to lead the Mean Green to a dominating 42-10 win Saturday on Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium.
UNT had lost 10 straight against Tulsa since 1969.
UNT (8-4, 6-2 Conference USA) ended that slide with one of its most complete performances in a breakout season that is expected to continue with a bowl game for the first time since 2004.
“It’s a great win for us,” UNT coach Dan McCarney said. “We won six of our last seven games and went from 4-8 to 8-4. The neat thing is that it gives us a chance to go for our ninth win in a bowl game, wherever it is.”
UNT entered the day with an outside shot of tying for the C-USA West Division title but saw those hopes end when Rice beat Tulane 17-13, giving the Owls the title outright.
The Mean Green controlled its destiny until losing at home to Texas-San Antonio last week. UNT had won five consecutive games before falling to the Roadrunners.
UNT didn’t show any signs of a hangover against Tulsa (3-9, 2-6).
“After last week, we had to regroup, dig down deep and find that emotion that we had during the winning streak,” Thompson said. “We went out and made a statement today. We were able to run the ball, and our defense basically shut them out. It was a great all-around effort.”
Thompson and Byrd led that effort while reaching landmarks in their final regular-season games. Thompson pushed his career passing total to 7,191 yards, moving him past Ramsey, who threw for 7,076 yards from 1967-69. Mitch Maher is UNT’s career leader with 8,519 yards.
Byrd became just the 10th player in UNT history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season after his big night pushed his season total to 1,023.
“That is nice to do that in my last regular-season game, but a win is a win,” Byrd said. “That is what I’m happy about.”
Byrd was one of several UNT players who helped the Mean Green rebound from a tough start to take a 21-10 lead at halftime.
The Mean Green appeared as if it would cruise when it drove straight down the field on its opening possession and reached the 20-yard line, where Brelan Chancellor caught a pass from Thompson. Chancellor fumbled before Tulsa safety Will Barrow picked the ball up at the 3 and returned it 97 yards for a touchdown that gave TU an early lead.
UNT dominated the rest of the half.
Antoinne Jimmerson scored on a 12-yard run before the Mean Green took the lead for good on a key special teams play.
Tulsa was backed up to its 22-yard line, where backup wide receiver Mike Marshall got free and blocked a Dalton Parks punt. Jarrian Roberts scooped the ball up and returned it 8 yards for a touchdown that put UNT up 14-10.
The play seemed to energize UNT, which tacked on a 10-yard Byrd touchdown run just before halftime. UNT continued to cruise in the second half behind the senior, who broke free for a 91-yard touchdown run and later scored on a 2-yard run that put the Mean Green up 35-10.
Antoinne Jimmerson tacked on a 31-yard TD run to cap a run of 35 straight UNT points.
Tulsa never got on track offensively and continued to punt the ball back to UNT, which converted over and over while pulling away. The Mean Green’s defense didn’t allow a touchdown all day and gave up just 236 yards while shutting down Tulsa after it jumped out to its early lead.
Trey Watts led Tulsa with 114 rushing yards.
“That was really important to come back after that early touchdown,” UNT linebacker Zach Orr said. “We came in with the mindset that we were not going to let them in the end zone. Everyone bought into that.”
The way UNT dominated was particularly sweet for several veterans who were on the field when Tulsa beat the Mean Green 41-24 in 2011 to extend its winning streak in the series to 10.
“Most of us were on the trip here two years ago when they got after us pretty good,” Orr said. “We were anxious to get back and avenge that loss.”