That special moment, one which can change the course of a season and a program, happened Saturday night in Denton.
Trailing 26-22 with a 1:07 left in the fourth quarter, North Texas started what would be “The Drive.” The end result was magical. Mean Green quarterback Mason Fine connected with Rico Bussey, Jr. for the 22-yard touchdown strike with 10 seconds remaining for the 29-26 comeback win over UT-San Antonio.
The end result was no surprise for the Mean Green, nor was there any doubt in the huddle that the job would get done.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Fine said. “The guys knew we were going down there and score. There’s no doubt that I saw from anyone. The guys made plays when they needed to.”
A key moment in the game-winning drive was when Fine found wide receiver Michael Lawrence for a 49-yard strike, helping set up the dramatic finish.
“When Mason throws the ball, he gives you a chance every time,” Lawrence said. “I just knew I had to be in the place where he threw the ball. I know I’m going to make the play. As a team, if there is time left on the clock, we know we go down there and score. No matter if there is ten seconds left or a minute left. That’s the mentality we have as a team.”
North Texas improved to 4-2 and remain unbeaten in Conference USA play at 3-0. The Mean Green currently sit in first place in the C-USA West Division.
“I feel like we are starting to learn how to win football games,” said head coach Seth Littrell. “The momentum and confidence are always a big help. Once you start getting on a roll, you don’t want it to end. It locks you in and continues to keep you focused. Every game gets bigger.”
TAKING A TRIP TO FLORIDA: The Mean Green now take their three-game winning streak and hit the road for a trip to Boca Raton to face Florida Atlantic. The Owls go into the game with a 3-3 record under first-year head coach Lane Kiffin but are also tied with Marshall for first in the C-USA East Division. Both teams are 2-0 in conference play.
Florida Atlantic is also coming off a bye week. The Owls beat Old Dominion 58-28 two weeks ago on the road for their second consecutive win.
GETTING NOTICED: The honors started rolling in for Fine after the comeback win over UTSA. The sophomore signal-caller was named C-USA Offensive Player of the Week for the first time in his career. He was also named as a finalist for The Manning Award “Star of the Week” as well as the Davey O’Brien Award’s “Great Eight” list.
“It’s a great accomplishment but more importantly it’s a team accomplishment,” Fine said. “I couldn’t do it without those guys, without the offensive line, without the receivers making plays.”
Fine has thrown for 300-plus yards three times this season, including 354 yards and three touchdowns against UTSA. He leads the conference in passing yards per game with 299.3 and in passing yards in 1,796.
“It’s a team effort,” Fine said. “Everyone is doing their job. I think that’s what it all comes down to. Everyone is focused on doing their job, not worrying about ‘me, me, me.’ That starts with the culture. That starts with the head man himself. Coach Littrell establishing our core values and it just trickles down to the players. We all believe in our core values and I think that’s the biggest thing right now.”
YEAR TWO: North Texas continues to improve under Littrell. Through six games, the Mean Green are averaging 37.2 points per game, which leads C-USA. That’s a dramatic increase from last season when they averaged 24.8 points per game.
“Year Two you can usually put a lot more on them,” explained LIttrell. “They know the system. You keep it as simple as possible in Year One so they can at least play fast. But it is also growing and making sure you know who your personnel is. Year Two in the system, the coaches are more comfortable with the system. The players, they start figuring out and knowing what the adjustments are. We’ve got a great group. Our coaches have done an unbelievable job. All the credit to them.”
Senior running back Jeffery Wilson is another player that has flourished under Littrell’s system. The two-time C-USA Player of the Week ranks tenth in the nation in rushing yards per game. Through six games, Wilson has 749 yards rushing and nine touchdowns.
“We understand the offense,” Wilson said. “We understand what the coaches are trying to accomplish and we understand what we’ve got to do to be successful. Knowing all that makes it a lot easy for us.”
ALL THE BUZZ: The buzz around the Mean Green football program not only continues, but stepped up a notch after the comeback win.
“I’ve had more students come up to me on campus and say ‘Hey, good job. Keep it up.’ I think the sport is growing around Denton,” Fine said.
And while that growth and excitement continues around Denton, the players are soaking it all in but remain focused on the tasks at hand.
“It’s a lot of fun,” added Lawrence. “You can tell things are changing but the atmosphere has been different. It’s been pretty cool.”