After a long season filled with great expectations, North Texas closes its final chapter to its season with a 26-20 loss to Alabama-Birmingham (9-3, 6-2 Conference USA). Despite losing their bowl eligibility last week in their 20-14 loss to Rice (3-9, Conference USA 3-5), North Texas came into their game against the Blazers with hopes of sending their seniors out the right way.
It came down to a final drive with senior quarterback Mason Fine getting sacked on fourth and long with 1:13 left in the game. Loud boos quickly followed the play and echoed across Apogee Stadium upon seeing the replay where it showed Fine getting yanked down by his face mask. The boos stemmed from the lack of a flag being thrown by the referees. The Blazers regained possession and took a knee and watched as the game clock slowly reach four zeros.
Fine’s career with North Texas, in concert with 21 others, was over. Despite the game ending the way it did, Fine said that plays like that along with the entirety of this season are a part of life.
“This whole season has been an example of how life is,” Fine said. “I mean life is not perfect, this game is why I love it so much. This game has taught me a lot, not just as a player but a man. Yeah, it didn’t go our way but as I keep telling everyone this chapter is closed but I’m onto a new one. It didn’t go the way we wanted it to but man that’s life and thats the game of football.”
For the Peggs, Oklahoma native, he ended his final game with North Texas being the first player to be responsible for 100 touchdowns
(93 passing, seven rushing) and eclipse 3,000 passing yards in three consecutive seasons.
North Texas will wave farewell to 22 seniors who were head coach Seth Littrell’s first batch of recruits in his first year with the Mean Green in 2016. They were all recognized for their accomplishments the days before the game as well as in pregame warmups.
“They’ve accomplished a lot together,” head coach Seth Littrell said. “I’m proud of their leadership ability and just how much they’ve grown. I hope they’ve learned as much from me as I’ve learned from them. I seriously can’t wait to watch them go through life.”
Throughout the game, there was a grand total of seven lead changes making it hard to see a clear winner until the final minute of play.
North Texas came out firing in their first drive of the game before trading three and outs with Alabama-Birmingham. The next score didn’t come until after eight minutes of gameplay after the Blazers converted a 32-yard field goal, ending the first quarter with North Texas leading 7-3.
In the first quarter, the Blazers relied heavily on their run game with four players producing 50 yards of rushing on 14 attempts. Their quarterback play consisted of redshirt Tyler Johnston III and redshirt freshman Dylan Hopkins who went a combined 2-for-4 for 13 yards passing.
The Blazers regained the lead late in the second quarter after junior runningback Spencer Brown tallied his fifth rushing score on the year from four yards out. The 95-yard scoring was made possible after Johnston put together two back to back 24-yard throws to tight end Thair Blakes and Kendall Parham.
From that point on, North Texas and Alabama-Birmingham traded haymakers with their opposing ground games with the Mean Green responding after junior running back Deandre Torrey scored his second score of the year.
The Blazers scored the third and final rushing touchdown of the game with redshirt sophomore Lucious Stanley from two yards out. The scoring play was set up after two back to back pass interference penalties were called on graduate senior cornerback Nick Harvey and junior cornerback Cam Johnson.
“We just try to keep preaching into everybody’s heads like this is your last opportunity so don’t have any regrets,” senior safety Taylor Robinson said. “I know personally I don’t have any regrets, I feel like I gave it my all and I kn0w my teammates did too.”
The Blazers went into the half with a 17-14 lead, despite the back and forth scoring the Mean Green hung in the game.
Alabama-Birmingham opened up the second half with a 41-yard field goal which was followed up by a 2-yard touchdown strike from Fine to junior wideout Jaelon Darden. Darden finished the game with 10 catches with 81 yards and a scored.
The Mean Green held a slim 21-20 lead over the Blazers before Fine threw his second interception on the day and witnessed it get returned for a 76-yard pick-6.
Although Littrell turns the page on the Fine Era, he has his eyes set on what’s to come with the up and coming classmen on his roster.
“We got a good young group of men that want to be successful,” Littrell said. “It’s still a tight team, you look downstairs in the locker room and it’s a family and it always will be a family. So we have to clean some things up and get back to work and understand that the standard is going to bowl games, competing for championships and winning championships. We got to reset and make sure that we focus on the little details in the offseason to where this never happens again.”
Featured Image: Senior quarterback Mason Fine looks out to the sideline before the snap at the game against Alabama-Birmingham on Nov. 30, 2019. Image by Jordan Collard