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Brett Vito: It’s all about closing the deal now for UNT

For the first time in a long time, North Texas seems to have something going when it comes to its football program.

One could feel it on Saturday night after the Mean Green knocked off Louisiana Tech.

UNT’s players gathered in the corner of the field at Aillet Stadium and started familiar “North … Texas” back-and-forth cheer with a pretty sizable crowd of fans who made the trip.

The celebration in the locker room was a little more spirited as well, judging by what UNT’s players and coaches had to say.

And why not?

UNT has won back-to-back games for the first time since 2004 and has a pretty clear path to a bowl game, which would be its first since the Mean Green played in the New Orleans Bowl that same year.

Everything seems to be lining up for UNT this season, from the schedule to the way the Mean Green has remained relatively healthy to the way a host of key veteran players have performed.

All that’s left to do is close the deal, bust a string of eight straight losing seasons and get to a bowl game.

“All I wanted to see was this football team and this program to improve,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said. “People who are close to this program know that we have built it from scratch the right way.”

The time to capitalize is now.

There might not be a team that could serve as a better cautionary tale than the Tech team UNT took out on its homecoming.

The Bulldogs were 9-1 and ranked in the Top 25 before falling in overtime at Utah State, losing at San Diego State and somehow ending up at home during the bowl season a year ago.

Tech had a special team last season and somehow failed to capitalize.

At this point, there is little doubt this might be the edition of the Mean Green that has the opportunity to be the team that turns it all around for UNT. McCarney has been talking about the possibility since the spring and did again Saturday.

“Let’s be different and unique and do things that haven’t been done in a long time,” McCarney said. “Let’s forget the preseason prognostications and everything on the outside where expectations were so low. Our expectations on the inside were high.”

What transpired in UNT’s win over Tech showed why those expectations have been there all along.

Linebacker Zach Orr, one of the better defensive players UNT has featured in years, finished with 17 tackles against the Bulldogs and surpassed the 300-tackle mark for his career.

Derek Thompson threw a bad interception early, but bounced back to throw for 221 yards and a touchdown while connecting on 16 of his 24 attempts. The experience the senior brings as a three-year starter is invaluable, even if it is often overlooked.

And those are just a few of the seniors who make this year’s edition of the Mean Green special, and not unlike last season’s Tech team that stumbled late a year ago.

Defensive end Brandon McCoy posted 1.5 sacks, linebacker Will Wright finished with eight tackles, and safety Marcus Trice added five stops and broke up a pass. All are seniors and played key roles after UNT fell behind 10-0 to the Bulldogs early.

“We are so resilient,” Thompson said. “We kept playing and were able to bounce back and get the win.”

That win put UNT squarely on course to play in a bowl game, just like Tech was a year ago.

The Mean Green and a pretty large batch of seniors have an opportunity to take UNT back to the bowl season.

“It’s a great feeling,” Orr said after UNT took another step toward that goal with its win over Tech. “This is the first time anyone on this team has won two games in a row at North Texas. It’s our first road win and the first time we have been 4-3.

“We feel like we can compete with anyone in Conference USA.”

All that is left for UNT now is to build on the momentum that had clearly been established by the end of its win over the Bulldogs and complete the journey.

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