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Football: Special teams play gives UNT shot

Profile image for By Brett Vito / Staff Writer
By Brett Vito / Staff Writer

ATHENS, Ga. — North Texas coach Dan McCarney has been singing the praises of special teams coordinator Tommy Perry throughout Perry’s first season with the Mean Green.

McCarney certainly didn’t stop after UNT’s 45-21 loss to ninth-ranked Georgia on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.

The Mean Green was right in the thick of a game with a Southeastern Conference power in the second half largely because of its performance on special teams.

UNT made two enormous plays in the kicking game that helped the Mean Green rally from an early 14-point deficit to tie the game at 21 in the third quarter.

Brelan Chancellor returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown late in the first half before cornerback Zac Whitfield recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown in the third quarter. Marcus Trice made the block.

“We were pathetic on special teams last year,” said McCarney, who credited UNT’s performance largely to Perry. “It was embarrassing. We wanted to put a better product out there on the field when we call on our special teams. We are making up a lot of ground in that area. When you have dynamic players like Brelan Chancellor, it makes it easier.”

Chancellor became UNT’s all-time leader in kickoff returns for touchdowns with the third of his career late in the first half. The senior fielded a kickoff at the goal line after Georgia had gone up 21-7 and raced through the Bulldogs’ coverage team for the touchdown.

Chancellor had been tied with Michael High, who played for UNT from 1991-94, with two career kickoff returns for touchdowns.

“The kickoff return guys gave me great blocks and we finally executed,” Chancellor said. “I ran to where was open.”

That usually works out well for UNT. Chancellor’s kickoff return tied for the third-longest in school history and gave him three of the nine longest returns in program history.

UNT tacked on another key special teams play when Trice blocked a Collin Barber punt that Whitfield pounced on in the end zone for a touchdown. The Mean Green had not blocked a punt and converted it into a touchdown since a win over Middle Tennessee in 2011.

“We have not gone after a lot of punts this year but work on it every day and every practice,” McCarney said. “We are going to need to have our special teams be a strength when we get into conference play, and they sure were today.”

UNT also was solid in the punting game, where Blake Macek averaged 45.8 yards per attempt and had three downed inside Georgia’s 20-yard line.

“We are caring about special teams,” Chancellor said. “Guys want to be great. We have the want-to on special teams.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.