Every once in a while college teams run into games that change the trajectory of their program, sometimes in a positive way, other times in a negative fashion.
UNT played one of those games in 2009 on a cold, rainy night at Fouts Field.
The Mean Green’s chance at history, a little revenge and maybe a program-changing win will come in the rematch today, when UNT faces Ohio for the first time since that fateful night ended with a double-overtime loss to the Bobcats.
UNT won its season opener for the first time since 2009 last week when it knocked off Idaho.
A win today would give UNT its first 2-0 start since 1994 and back-to-back wins for the first time since the 2004 season.
“It would be big to go 2-0,” UNT quarterback Derek Thompson said. “We know we have a big challenge ahead of us. They are tough and big up front. They have a lot of experience and play with effort and tenacity.”
Thompson should know. He is one of a select few fifth-year seniors who were around for one of UNT’s toughest losses in recent years.
The Mean Green was 1-0 after a win over Ball State and was locked in a tie with Ohio. UNT went up 30-23 in the second overtime when Cam Montgomery scored on a 7-yard run and seemed to be on its way to a 2-0 start when Ohio faced a fourth-and-goal situation from the 15-yard line.
Ohio stunned UNT when Taylor Price caught a strike from Theo Scott, who drew a roughing the passer penalty against defensive end Eddrick Gilmore.
Ohio coach Frank Solich decided to go for the game-winning two-point conversion and saw the Bobcats come through when Scott found Price alone in the front corner of the end zone on a play-action pass.
The loss sent UNT on a skid during which it lost 13 of 14 over a two-year span, while Ohio went on to play in the 2009 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Ohio has been to a bowl game in each season since, while UNT has continued to struggle as its postseason drought reached eight years.
“Ohio is who we want to become,” UNT coach Dan McCarney said. “They win and are successful. They win at home, go to bowl games, win bowl games and are respected by everyone in the country. That is who we want to be. That is what we want to build at North Texas.”
A win today would be a key step in the process.
UNT is 8-4 at home under McCarney and would be well on its way to the six wins it takes to become bowl-eligible with a 2-0 record and five home games remaining if it can knock off Ohio.
UNT’s players know reaching that point will be much tougher than it sounds.
“Their coach is solid and they have a plan to win,” UNT running back Brandin Byrd said. “They have done well since he has been there.”
Ohio will enter its game against UNT looking to get back on track after a tough 49-7 loss to No. 8 Louisville to open the season Sunday.
UNT’s coaches and players gathered to watch that game in the club level at Apogee Stadium one day after knocking off Idaho. What they saw didn’t change their opinion that their game against the Bobcats will be a tough one.
“No one is fooled in our program — none of our players and none of our coaches,” McCarney said. “Ohio has a hell of a football team. We know how hard it’s going to be to win.”
The Bobcats are 19-5 at home dating to 2009 and have several of their key players returning from last season, including quarterback Tyler Tettleton and running back Beau Blankenship.
Tettleton has thrown for 6,414 yards in his career, while Blankenship has rushed for 2,099 yards.
That pair and the rest of a veteran Ohio team will be motivated following the Bobcats’ worst loss since 2007.
In some ways, today’s game mirrors that 2009 contest when Ohio snuck out of Denton with a win, in that it could be a turning point for both teams.
“There are certain points in time in a season that are either going to help you or they are going to hurt you,” Solich said. “Obviously, that was a big help.”
UNT is hoping today’s game helps the Mean Green in a similar way.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.
North Texas Gameday
UNT AT OHIO
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: Peden Stadium, Athens, Ohio
Records: UNT 1-0, Ohio 0-1
Last meeting: Ohio 31, UNT 30 (2009)
Last week: UNT 40, Idaho 6; No. 8 Louisville 49, Ohio 7
Series: Ohio leads 1-0
Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3; KNTU-FM 88.1