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UNT gets walloped by former Sun Belt foe Troy in the New Orleans Bowl

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS — The idea when North Texas bolted the Sun Belt Conference after the 2012 season to join Conference USA was that it was moving up in college football.

A new league with three Texas rivals has been a boost for the Mean Green.

No doubt about it.

Troy made a pretty compelling argument that while the move has been great for UNT, it hasn't moved the Mean Green past some of their old rivals, including Troy.

The Trojans gave UNT fits for years in the Sun Belt and handed the Mean Green perhaps the toughest loss in the history of the series on Saturday — a 50-30 runaway in the New Orleans Bowl.

Troy's stout defense slowed down the Mean Green's record-setting offense, and quarterback Brandon Silvers did the rest on his way to winning MVP honors at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"I am proud of my men," UNT coach Seth Littrell said. "We did a lot of great things. I have a lot of love for our seniors win, lose or draw. This hurts. We didn't accomplish our mission to win our bowl game, but we did a lot of great things."

Littrell named winning a bowl game as UNT's mission when he arrived at the school before the 2016 season.

The Mean Green got their second crack at coming through in two years, this time in the midst of one of the best seasons in program history.

UNT (9-4) was aiming for the fourth bowl win in program history and its third season with at least 10 wins.

The Mean Green came up short in their fifth appearance in the New Orleans Bowl, just like they did last year when they lost to Army in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Finishing on a sour note was tough for the Mean Green, who also lost to Florida Atlantic in the C-USA title game back on Dec. 2.

"We are 0-3 in championship games and bowl games," UNT quarterback Mason Fine said. "That is not our standard. I am going to keep working hard, keep that chip on my shoulder and make sure we accomplish our mission next year."

Littrell was quick to point out what UNT did accomplish this season, including winning the C-USA West Division title and reaching a milestone by winning at least nine games for the seventh time in program history.

UNT just couldn't add to its resume against Troy, a team that capped season just the way it had hoped.

Spoiling the party is nothing new for Troy when it comes to facing UNT.

The Trojans (11-2) snapped UNT's program record 26-game Sun Belt Conference winning streak in 2005 and improved to 9-2 against the Mean Green all-time.

Troy saw its game against UNT as an opportunity to fight for respect for not only its program, but for the Sun Belt as a whole.

"It was critical for the Sun Belt Conference to have a win over Conference USA," Troy coach Neal Brown said. "It says a lot about our program."

Saturday's game shaped up as a battle between UNT's high scoring offense and the Trojans defense.

UNT came in scoring 35.9 points per game while Troy ranked 11th nationally with a 17.5 points per game allowed.

The Trojans won that battle.

Troy sacked Fine six times and completely shut down UNT's running game. They Mean Green finished with minus 8 yards on 25 carries once sack yards were taken into account.

Fine threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns, but that wasn't nearly enough to keep pace with the Trojans.

"Their front seven was making plays all day," Fine said. "They made us one-dimensional and took away the run."

The Trojans front did a whole lot more than just that. It also made a series of plays that turned the game.

Troy scored on their first drive and then got the ball back when defensive lineman Jamal Stadom sacked Fine and forced a fumble that linebacker Sam Lebbie recovered.

Josh Anderson cashed the turnover in on a 2-yard run for Troy, which had a 22-7 lead and the ball at the UNT 22-yard line and a chance to put UNT in a real bind in the second quarter.

The Mean Green caught a break when Troy center Deontae Crumitie sailed a snap over Silvers' head. UNT linebacker Colton McDonald scooped the ball up and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown.

UNT pulled within 22-20 on Fine's 13-yard touchdown pass to Michael Lawrence a short time later.

It was all downhill from there for UNT. Silvers threw three touchdown passes and scored on a 2-yard run in the second half to highlight his final game with the Trojans. He ended the Mean Green's dreams of a winning a bowl in the process while giving the Sun Belt a boost.

"We fell short," senior safety Kishawn McClain said. "That was our team goal, to win a bowl game. It's tough."

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