DENTON – North Texas opened 2017 right where it left off 2016 – with an attack heavy on the running of Jeffery Wilson.
In Saturday’s season opener at Apogee Stadium, senior running back Wilson rushed for 176 yards and three touchdowns – by halftime. The only thing that slowed him was a leg cramp and teammate Nic Smith, who spelled Wilson and rushed for 101 yards of his own.
“Those running backs played at a physical, high level,” North Texas coach Seth Littrellsaid after his team’s 59-14 win over the Lamar Cardinals, the 499th in program history. “We’re excited about that group, and I can’t give enough credit to those guys up front.
“We really came to play for four quarters,” he added.
Wilson was dominant Saturday, averaging 14.7 yards per carry, staking North Texas to a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter and sparking the Mean Green offense to a school-record 668 yards total offense in the highest-scoring season-opener in school history.
“It’s good to see Jeffery back healthy,” Littrell said. “He has that extra gear. We just have to keep him healthy and fresh.”
“We challenged our offensive line to dominate, and they did that,” Wilson said.
Lamar, a squad that two days earlier was dealing with the flood waters from Hurricane Harvey that inundated Beaumont, generated a few early first downs but could not sustain a drive. But North Texas muffed punt late in the first quarter, giving the Cardinals the ball at the UNT 5-yard line, and Lamar cashed in with a 1-yard TD pass on fourth and goal to pull within 17-7 at the end of the opening period.
The Cardinals defense, meanwhile, got pressure on Mean Green quarterback Mason Fine (Cherokee Nation) to slow the UNT passing game in the first half.
But Lamar had no answer for Wilson. The senior from Elkhart Lake, Texas, amassed 93 yards rushing in the first quarter, topped the century mark for the game in the second quarter, and had three first-half touchdowns. The ground game kept rolling without Wilson, piling up 438 total yards rushing. Smith’s performance was the first 100-yard performance by a North Texas freshman since Jamario Thomas in 2007.
When Fine got protection, he was effective. He threw for three touchdowns on 15-of-21 passing for 224 yards, including 63 yards on four completions to wide receiver Jalen Guyton, the redshirt sophomore from Allen by way of Notre Dame who made his Mean Green debut Saturday.
“Overall, I thought he did a good job managing the game,” Littrell said of Fine. “He made some really good throws.”
“The offensive line did a great job and the guys around me made plays,” Fine said. “They made it easy for me.”
Defensively, North Texas allowed just 266 yards total offense and just 86 yards rushing, registering two sacks and five tackles for loss. Khairi Muhammad was the Mean Green’s leading tackler with seven and added a forced fumble, defensive lineman Andy Flusche batted down two passes and had two QB hurries, and William LeMasters had an interception.
What They Said
“You’ve got to give Lamar a lot of credit. They’ve been through a lot this last week, and our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families”
–North Texas coach Seth Littrell on Lamar, which is located in Beaumont, one of those towns dealing with the devastating floods from Hurricane Harvey
“Last season’s experience help me a lot. The game has slowed down a little for me.”
–quarterback Mason Fine on entering his sophomore season
- Junion wide receiver Quinetin Jackson caught his first career touchdown pass on his first career reception, a 31-yard toss from quarterback Mason Fine to put North Texas up 14-0 in the first quarter.
- Sophomore wide receiver Michael Lawrence scored the first touchdown of his career on a 44-yard pass from Mason Fine in the second quarter.
- That 44-yard score was the longest touchdown pass of Fine’s career.
- North Texas’ 438 yards rushing is the third most in school history.
- The Mean Green’s 668 yards total offense topped the previous high of 635, from the unforgettable 2007 game against Navy at Fouts Field.
North Texas plays SMU in Dallas on Saturday, Sept. 9. Kickoff is 6 p.m.