‘Destined to happen’

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David Minton
North Texas head coach Dan McCarney lifts the Heart of Dallas Bowl trophy after the Mean Green defeated UNLV 36-14 on Wednesday.

UNT’s breakout season named DRC’s top sports story of 2013

Championships arrive with regularity in Denton, judging by recent history.

Before the calendar flipped to 2013, Ryan had won state titles football and basketball and Guyer in football not all that long ago. North Texas won a bowl game back in 2002 —and that was just for starters.

What made 2013 special in Denton-area sports is the string of championships that seemed to come one right after another.

Jerrod Heard led Guyer to its second straight state football title, a run capped by a win over San Antonio Brennan in the Class 4A Division I final, while Argyle knocked off Fairfield in the Class 3A Division II championship game. The Guyer girls soccer team and the Pilot Point softball team won titles.

When it came time to pick the story of the year, the Denton Record-Chronicle sports staff considered those milestones and several others before one rose above the rest: UNT’s breakout football season capped by a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Several of the stories in the year’s top 10 are tales of milestone seasons or individual achievement. UNT’s journey could have an even bigger impact. How big an impact won’t be fully known for years, but the Mean Green’s breakout season has the potential to change the trajectory of a program, a school’s athletic department and maybe the culture of an entire university.

“It’s been a slow process to expand our fan base, but they have been really, really loyal,” UNT coach Dan McCarney said following the Mean Green’s 36-14 win over UNLV. “The nucleus we have now is unbelievable. Walking into one of the great stadiums in the history of college football, you have this whole sea of green. It’s unbelievable.”

UNT played in front of a crowd of 38,380 at the Cotton Bowl in its win over the Rebels, and nearly all of them were clad in green.

The school has long spoken of the potential of its athletic program if it could ever give the more than 100,000 alumni in the Dallas-Fort Worth area something to cheer about again in football, the sport that matters above all others in Texas.

The stage seemed set for UNT to put together that type of season at the beginning of the year. UNT had a roster loaded with key seniors, including quarterback Derek Thompson, wide receiver Brelan Chancellor and linebacker Zach Orr. All three rank among the most productive players in program history.

That trio had one last chance to capitalize on its potential in 2013, when McCarney seemed to have his best shot to get UNT rolling in his tenure that now stands at three seasons.

“It seemed like it was destined to happen,” Orr said. “We felt that way coming into the year — that we had a good squad and we were going to play in some meaningful games.”

UNT played in several games that fit that description and gave Mean Green fans something to cheer about for the first time in a long time.

UNT had not played in a bowl game since 2004 and hadn’t won one since the 2002 New Orleans Bowl, one of just two bowl wins in school history before Wednesday.

UNT had some good times in men’s basketball under former head coach Johnny Jones, who led the Mean Green to the NCAA tournament in 2007 and 2010. The jolt those trips provided UNT had faded by this fall, especially following the 2012-13 school year, during which UNT posted losing seasons in all three revenue sports — football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball.

UNT desperately needed something to go its way heading into football season and saw McCarney and his team rally from a slow start and come through.

The Mean Green sat at 2-3 following a devastating loss to Tulane, which beat UNT 24-21 on a last-second field goal.

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