North Texas soars in second half to win Heart of Dallas Bowl 36-14 over UNLV

DENTON, TX JANUARY 1: Head coach Dan McCarney of the North Texas Mean Green puts his arm on Mark Lewis #8 of the North Texas Mean Green after the Heart of Dallas Bowl at Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas on January 1, 2014 in Dallas, TX. Photo by Rick Yeatts

DALLAS, TEXAS – The UNLV Rebels undefeated bowl streak comes to an end, as they fall to the North Mean Green 36-14, in the fourth annual Heart of Dallas Bowl, sponsored by PlainsCapital Bank.

It was a perfect day for football at the Cotton Bowl, as UNLV and North Texas went toe to toe. The tailgaters were out for sure, and so were the 38,380 fans that filled the stadium.

The Rebels struck first, when junior receiver Marcus Sullivan caught a 9-yard pass from senior quarterback Caleb Herring with 7:31 remaining in the first quarter, which was part of an eight play, 95-yard. It was the only Rebel touchdown scored until the fourth quarter.

“We had a couple of opportunities in the first, and second half that we weren’t able to capitalize on,” UNLV head coach Bobby Hauck said. “We would get something going, and we would have a negative play, and that makes it hard to move the chains.”

It was a close battle early, but the Mean green captured the momentum, after a muffed punt by Rebel freshman Keith Whitely put the momentum in North Texas’ hands. It was exactly what the Mean Green needed, especially after turning the ball over in the red zone on their opening drive.

“They showed today, unbelievable examples of how you play the game, and how you win a football game,” North Texas head coach Dan McCarney said.

UNLV marched down the field late in the first half, but came up with no points, after a 52-yard field goal attempt by senior kicker Nolan Kohorst fell short as time expired. At  the end of the first half, the game was deadlocked in a 7-7 tie. Neither team had established their dominance, or was able to capture any momentum.

In the second half, senior quarterback and Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP, Derek Thompson lead the Mean Green on a 12 play, 60-yard drive, to take the lead over the Rebels 14-7, with little more than six minutes remaining in the third quarter.

“We just made plays, it wasn’t anything special, we just went down the field and scored,” Thompson said. “The defense took it from there.”

Thompson went 4-of-4 passing on that drive, and finished the game 21-of-30, with 256 passing yards, and two touchdowns.

North Texas would hold the Rebels to just one touchdown in the second half. Although the first half wasn’t the start that Mean Green senior linebacker Zachary Orr had imagined, he knew that his team was capable of winning.

“After that 95-yard drive, I told the guys to we’re not playing Mean Green defense, let’s settle in, let’s play our style of football, and win this game,” Orr said. “It was good to see the guys come together and make plays.”

Orr was all over the field, and lead all North Texas players, with 9 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss.

The Heart of Dallas Bowl was the perfect sendoff for the 22 seniors on the North Texas Roster. They were freshmen when McCarney took over in 2011. He told the team then that they were capable of being bowl champions before they graduate, and they did just that.

“i’m proud of my guys,” McCarney said. “Thanks to the fans, great support, we sent a message today. I think we’re a program on the rise. We have have some tremendous guys coming back, but the example the seniors left are here forever.”

@thedemariodavis