DALLAS — Derek Thompson began his senior season facing questions about whether or not he would hold on to his job as North Texas’ starting quarterback.
Those questions were nothing but a memory by Wednesday afternoon, when he hoisted the MVP trophy after putting on a gutty performance to lead the Mean Green to a 36-14 win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
“It was a pretty awesome experience to play in the Cotton Bowl my last game,” Thompson said. “To be able to finish out the way I did, and the way we did as a team with these seniors, was great. I love those guys.”
Thompson left the game briefly in the first quarter after suffering a knee injury. The senior said the patella popped out in his right knee and had to be pushed back in.
The former Glen Rose standout went to the sidelines for two plays and returned to complete a standout performance that saw him throw for 256 yards. His 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Drew Miller in the third quarter broke a 7-7 tie, while his 34-yard strike to Darnell Smith put UNT up 28-7 in the fourth quarter and essentially iced the game for the Mean Green.
“He took some good shots,” UNLV head coach Bobby Hauck said. “We hit him, knocked him down and roughed him up. He got right back up and did a good job.”
Thompson was determined to come back and finish the game. UNT trailed 7-0 when Thompson went to the sideline.
“When you play the game of football, adrenalin helps,” Thompson said. “You have to be mentally tough and do it for the guys who are depending on you. I wasn’t going to be denied. That was my team out there.”
Thompson completed 21 of his 30 pass attempts in an efficient outing. He had three 300-yard games on the season, but his performance against UNLV ranked right up there with his best games considering the stakes.
“It was absolutely one of my biggest games,” Thompson said. “I’ve had some pretty good games this year, but you want to end it on a good note. They were going to load up the box and try to stop the run, which was fine with me. I was going to have to put it on my shoulders. We have such good receivers and a good pass-blocking line.”
Thompson finished second in school history behind Mitch Maher with 7,447 passing yards and moved into fourth place in school history with 42 touchdown passes.
Those marks mean a lot to Thompson, but it was the ending that was particularly meaningful.
Thompson began the season trying to hold off a host of other players competing for the starting job, including freshman Dajon Williams and sophomore Andre McNulty, who replaced him when he went out against UNLV.
Thompson ended it by hoisting the MVP trophy as UNT fans streamed in from the stands and surrounded the stage on the field.
“It was a humbling experience, an unbelievable experience,” Thompson said. “It’s been a hell of a ride.”