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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Football falls to Liberty in sixth straight loss Saturday afternoon

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Article Originally Published by Reed Smith on North Texas Daily

Article Originally Published by Reed Smith on North Texas Daily

North Texas failed to find the win column for the sixth week in a row as the Mean Green were bested 35-26 at home versus Liberty University Saturday afternoon.

Taking a 20-14 lead into the second half,  North Texas (1-6, 0-3 Conference USA) was unable to overcome a Liberty (6-2) comeback led by junior quarterback Malik Willis. 

Head coach Seth Littrell and various players have continually used the phrase “start fast” multiple times this season, citing slow starts for lack of success. On Saturday, North Texas started fast but struggled to find efficiency toward the end of drives, only finding the end zone twice in seven chances. 

“In the first half we played clean, and got us a lead there going into halftime,” Littrell said. “Just got to finish off some drives in the red zone.”

Senior quarterback Austin Aune threw his fifth interception of the season on North Texas’ first drive. Following a defensive stand, North Texas got the ball back and finished the drive with senior running back DeAndre Torrey’s seventh touchdown of the season.

Early into the second quarter, Willis tied the game on a 27-yard pass to fifth-year senior Kevin Shaa. North Texas responded with a 42-yard rush by freshman running back Ayo Adeyi and two field goals off the foot of freshman Aaron Beckham, who was filling in for junior kicker Ethan Mooney. 

After a sack midway through the second quarter, Willis was taken to the locker room for further evaluation on his left foot. Backup redshirt sophomore quarterback Johnathan Bennett checked in for Liberty following the injury, throwing a 39-yard passing touchdown to redshirt freshman receiver C.J. Daniels in his first six minutes on the field. 

Daniels’ touchdown was scored with freshman defensive back Harold West checked into the game. West was in the game following a sophomore safety Deshawn Gaddie targeting ejection that would be the first of three losses for North Texas in their secondary on the day. Junior defensive backs John Davis and Quinn Whitlock exited the contest early due to injuries later in the game.

Aune extended their lead to 26-14 on a 6-yard pass to senior tight end Jacob Pirtle, but the Mean Green then failed on the two-point conversion.

Willis returned on the following drive and seemed to hobble on his injured left foot for two plays before regaining his elusiveness. The 6’1 quarterback would then prove his health with a couple of bulleted passes that were capped off with Daniels’ second touchdown of the day, a well-placed 20-yard throw up the seam. 

The following drive saw a catch in Liberty territory by sophomore receiver Roderic Burns that was negated due to a holding penalty. On 3rd and 17, the Mean Green would gain three of the 17 yards they needed, forcing their first punt of the game. 

Liberty took the lead on the punt with redshirt freshman Demario Douglas taking the punt 72-yards to the house, giving Liberty its first lead of the game. 

Going into the fourth quarter two points down, North Texas punted to Liberty’s 3-yard line, pinning Willis and the offense deep in their own territory. Willis was then nearly sacked by the defense but managed to get the ball away in a play that initially seemed like intentional grounding.

“I guess [Willis] made an unbelievable play,” Littrell said about the possible safety. “[the officials told Littrell] it was before passing the line of scrimmage and out of the box.”

The non-call would prove to be costly for the Mean Green. Instead of getting the ball back in a game tied at 28, Liberty and Willis marched down the field, scoring a touchdown on a 37-yard screen pass to sophomore Shedro Lewis. 

The score held at 35-26 for the rest of the game. North Texas had a chance in the red zone with 2:31 left in the contest but were not able to find the endzone, and instead tried to cut the game to a one-possession deficit with a field goal. Beckham missed the 26-yard attempt, which allowed Liberty to close out the game. 

Adeyi was the leading rusher with a career-high 102 yards rushing and a touchdown. Aune posted 22 for 35 through the air with a touchdown and two interceptions while Willis had a 12 for 18 slate with 222 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Pirtle thought the energy was different Saturday for North Texas and said his team can build off the loss versus Liberty going down the final five games of the season.

“It was good to see everybody grow up a little bit,” Pirtle said. “It gives us some confidence going into these last stretch of conference games…feeling pretty good.”

Featured Image: The Mean Green football team runs onto the field before their game against Marshall University on Oct. 15, 2021. Photo by Zachary Thomas

Source: North Texas Daily

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