North Texas built a 28-0 lead in the first half, getting a pair of touchdown passes from Mason Fine to Rico Bussey, Jr., and two rushing scores from DeAndre Torrey, before the Monarchs showed the form that earned them a win over Virginia Tech, which was then the No. 13 team in the nation.
"There's enough blame to go around, coaches and players," North Texas coach Seth Littrell said. "We've got to figure how to finish these games off."
The day started brilliantly for North Texas. On the Mean Green's opening possession, junior quarterback Mason Fine became the Mean Green's all-time leading passer, breaking the 24-yard old record set by Mitch Maher. Fine broke the record with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Bussey, and finished the day with 240 yards, two TDs and 8,743 career passing yards.
The Mean Green (7-3 overall, 3-3 in Conference USA) jumped out to a 14-0 lead, scoring on their first two drives which were set up by big plays from the defense. Defensive back Kemon Hall's fourth interception of the season, on ODU's opening possession, led to Fine's record-setting 23-yard touchdown toss to Bussey, and a quarterback sack by LaDarius Hamilton forced a Monarch punt and led to Torrey's first touchdown of the day, a 37-yard burst through the middle of the ODU defense.
Torrey, on his way to a 91-yard first half and a career-best 145-yard output, scored his second TD of the game on a 7-yard run, and Fine's second touchdown toss to Bussey ballooned the lead to 28-0 late in the half, at which point North Texas had out-gained the Monarchs 234-73.
Old Dominion, however, tapped the brakes on the blow out and clawed back into the game with 10 points before halftime. The Monarchs (3-7, 2-5) almost matched their offensive output for the rest of the half on one drive, hitting a 61-yard pass to the UNT 3-yard line to set up a 1-yard scoring run. After ODU intercepted a Fine pass, the Monarchs added a 48-yard field goal, getting into scoring position via an ODU fake punt and a Mean Green unsportsmanlike penalty.
Things got much tighter early in the second half when the Monarchs forced a three-and-out from North Texas, converted a fourth-and-2 at the Mean Green 40, and quarterback Blake LaRussa avoided a big Mean Green pass rush to hit a 12-yard touchdown pass and chop the UNT lead to 28-17.
Bussey provided North Texas a spark on special teams when he slashed in from the punter's right to block an ODU punt, which set up the Mean Green's only points of the second half, a 35-yard Cole Hedlund field goal.
But that did little to slow ODU or fuel UNT. ODU scored in a 4-yard touchdown to pull within 31-24, then forced and recovered a Mean Green fumble. ODU converted a third and 16 with a 53-yard pass, leading to a field goal and chopping the margin to 31-27.
North Texas had two possessions before ODU's final drive, but could do little with them, turning the ball over on downs once and punting the second time, setting the stage for the Monarch's final heroics, which were capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Lala Davis.
After their fast first-half start, the Mean Green offense managed just 161 yards the rest of the way, lost two turnovers, turned the ball over on downs three times (including a failed fake field goal), were flagged for four times for 15-yard penalties, and gave up three sacks, including on final play of the game to snuff out a final desperation attempt.
"We've got to be more disciplined," Littrell said. "Tonight it bit us."
In just his junior season, quarterback Mason Fine (Peggs, Okla.) became the Mean Green's all-time leading passer with 8,743 career yards, breaking the 24-yard old record set by Mitch Maher. Fine broke the record on UNT's opening possession with a 23-yard touchdown pass.
In addition to ascending to the top of the Mean Green career-passing-yards pyramid, junior quarterback Mason Fine (Peggs, Okla.) is making notable progress up the list of college football's all-time leading passers. Saturday, Fine moved to No. 215 on the list, and he surpassed a quarterback from Pitt who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Dan Marino.
Fine also debuted among Conference USA's all-time career-passing leaders, slipping past Jason McKinley of Houston into 20th place.
Fine also became UNT's all-time leader in career passing attempts with 1,160.
Fine has 3,119 yards passing this season, the third 3,000-yard campaign in program history. Fine owns one of the other two, his UNT-best 4,052 yards of a year ago. Fine is the first QB in UNT history to pass for 3,000 yards or more in back-to-back seasons.
Fine saw his nation's-longest streak of passes without an interception end at 300 when he was intercepted in the second quarter, just his second pick of the season.
Sophomore running back DeAndre Torrey (Gautier, Miss.) had a career-high 149 yards rushing, and he entered UNT's all-time top 10 in single-season touchdowns (rushing, receiving and returns) with 14, tying Leo Taylor (1968) and Abner Haynes (1959) for seventh place; and in single-season rushing TDs with 12, tying Mike Jones (1977) for seventh place.
Junior defensive end LaDarius Hamilton (Corrigan, Texas) had two sacks, matching his single-game high.
Junior wide receiver Rico Bussey, Jr., (Lawton, Okla.) has 12 touchdown receptions this season, tying Casey Fitzgerald for second all-time at UNT singl single-season receiving TDs.
Bussey has 20 career touchdown receptions, which also ties Fitzgerald for fifth in career receiving TDs.
Bussey moved into the UNT's all-time top 10 in single-season receiving yards with 904, surpassing Ron Shanklin's 1969 season.
DENTON - North Texas got another strong performance from its defense and a massive night from running back DeAndre Torrey to earn a 41-17 win over Rice in Saturday night's homecoming at Apogee Stadium.
Torrey, a sophomore from from Gautier, Miss., rushed for a career-high 130 yards and three touchdowns and added a 5-yard TD reception to his resume, igniting the North Texas attack to a 24 unanswered points and blowing open a game that was tied in the third quarter.
"He did a nice job," North Texas coach Seth Littrell said of Torrey. "He broke some tackles, and it was nice to get back to running the football much better. I was proud of the way he ran."
"I knew I had to step up this week," Torrey said. "I'm putting it on my shoulders to get the job done."
The Mean Green (7-2 overall, 3-2 in Conference USA) survived a pair of turnovers that led to 10 points for the Owls. In addition to Torrey's big game, UNT got a 333-yard, two-touchdown effort from quarterback Mason Fine, a career-best 145-yard receiving night from wide receiver Rico Bussey, Jr., and a defense that allowed the Owls only one sustained drive.
The leaders on defense were legion. North Texas linebacker Joe Ozougwu, a redshirt sophomore from Alief, Texas, had seven tackles, including two for loss and a sack. E.J. Ejiya and Khairi Muhammad each had eight tackles, Nate Brooks had a pair of pass breakups, defensive lineman Dion Novil had six tackles and batted down a pass, and Brandon Garner had two tackles for loss and a sack.
Rice, which fell to 1-8 and lost its eighth in a row, took a 7-0 lead with a 75-yard drive on the opening possession of the game, mixing run and pass between a pair of local true freshmen, quarterback Wiley Green of Plano and running back Juma Otoviano of Arlington.
The Mean Green defense, however, rang up five tackles for loss, including a sack by Garner, and surrendered just 91 yards on Rice's next five possesions, while the offense got a 68-yard touchdown pass from Fine to Bussey and a 44-yard run by Torrey - which led to a Torrey 11-yard TD run - to wipe out the early deficit and give North Texas a 17-7 lead late in the half.
But the North Texas offense vacilated between those explosive plays and crippling mistakes. Fine was under almost constant pressure from the Rice pass rush and was sacked three times and hurried into incompletions four more times, and the Mean Green surrendered two fumbles that set up a Rice field goal to end the first half and a touchdown to start the second, leveling the game at 17-17.
"We've got to clean up some protection things and make sure we're protecting our quarterback," Littrell said.
The Mean Green, however, took control again behind its suffocating defense. After the Owls drew even, North Texas allowed Rice just 28 yards on 17 plays over its next five possessions.
The offense, meanwhile, got a jolt of life when Fine again went deep to Bussey, this time for 40 yards to set up a 23-yard field goal by Cole Hedlund and a 20-17 lead. Torrey's second touchdown of the night then gave the Mean Green breathing room at 27-17.
North Texas sealed the win when Joe Ozougwu's sack shook loose a fumble that Garner recovered at the Rice 14-yard line. On the next play, Torrey scored his third TD of the night for a 34-17 lead.
"I'm really proud of the way our men finished the game," Littrell said. "We've got a lot of things to clean up, but after nine weeks, we're coming into a much-needed off week."
The Mean Green's 7-2 start is their best since 1978, the last year under coach Hayden Fry, when North Texas went 9-2.
Junior wide receiver Rico Bussey, Jr., (Lawton, Okla.) had a career-high 145 yards receiving, besting his 128-yard game earlier this year against Incarnate Word, and his 68-yard first-quarter TD reception was UNT's longest play of the season.
Bussey has 10 touchdown receptions this season, tying John Love (1966) for sixth most in a single season at North Texas.
Redshirt senior kicker Cole Hedlund (Argyle, Texas) hit two field goals Saturday, giving him 15 this season and moving him into the top 10 in single-season field goals at UNT. He is tied for third with Trevor Moore (2014) and Dennis Hopovac (2016), and he surpassed Nick Bazaldua (2004), Garrett Courtney (1997), Jeff Graham (1996), Keith Chapman (1987) and Whit Smith (1980).
Sophomore running back DeAndre Torrey's 44-yard run in the first quarter was the longest of his career. He finished with a career-best 130 yards, the first 100-yard game of his career.
With his 333-yard effort against Rice, junior quarterback Mason Fine (Peggs, Okla.) has 8,503 career passing yards, moving him within 16 of UNT's all-time career mark of 8,519 held by Mitch Maher (1991-94).
Fine moved into second place in UNT career yards of total offense with 8,647 yards, surpassing Scott Davis (1987-90).
Fine has thrown 276 passes without an interception, the longest such streak in the nation.
Senior linebacker Brandon Garner (Mansfield, Texas) had two tackles for loss, giving him 12.5 for the season, tying him with Aaron Belazin (2013) for eighth most in a single season school history.
With two quarterback sacks against Rice, North Texas has 28 sacks this year, the ninth best team total in school history.
With 7 yards receiving Saturday, sophomore wide receiver Jaelon Darden topped 500 yards for the season. Along with Bussey and Jalen Guyton, he gives UNT three receivers with 500 yards receiving this year.
Rice quarterback Wiley Green, a true freshman from Plano, made his first career start for the Owls.