@LATechFB Falls in Homecoming Heartbreaker
Nov. 4, 2017
RUSTON, La. – North Texas running back Jeffrey Wilson scored the go-ahead touchdown with 6:04 to play and Louisiana Tech kicker Jonathan Barnes’ 53-yard field goal attempt with 2:39 to play missed wide left as the Mean Green spoiled the Bulldogs homecoming 24-23 before 18,504 fans at Joe Aillet Stadium Saturday afternoon.
The loss was the third one-point loss of the season for the Bulldogs and marked the seventh straight game that Louisiana Tech (4-5, 2-3 C-USA) has found itself in a one possession game with four and a half minutes to play in the game. Tech is 3-4 on those games with three one-point losses and one double overtime loss.
“To have the lead, it was -- it's hard,” said Tech head coach Skip Holtz. “I mean, it's hard, I know, for the players. It's hard for the coaches. It's hard for our fans. It's hard for the alumni, the administration, to watch it all be so close and not be able to get it done.”
Tech led 17-10 at the half behind touchdown runs by Boston Scott and J’Mar Smith. In fact the Bulldogs held a 17-7 advantage before North Texas drove 44 yards on six plays over the final 39 seconds of the half to kick a 48-yard field goal and cut it to a one possession game.
The Mean Green (6-3, 5-1 C-USA) used that momentum coming out for the second half. After forcing a three-and-out by the Tech offense to start the third quarter, North Texas drove 53 yards on six plays and tied the game at 17-17 on a 22-yard pass from Mason Fine to Rico Bussey.
Tech’s second half offensive struggles continued as the Bulldogs mustered only two field goals. A 37-yard boot with 6:50 to play in the third gave Tech a 20-17 lead and then a 35-yarder with 13:35 to play in the fourth quarter upped the Bulldog advantage to 23-17. However, the inability to get into the end zone in the second half came back to haunt Tech.
“Defensively, we did so many good things in this game,” said Holtz. “We did so many good things. And we were able to get off the field. But, yeah, it's frustrating when the games on the line and you've got a lead that we're not able to protect it. It's also frustrating to have the opportunity as an offense from the 40-yard line, where you've got first and 10, and not be able to make a first down or get yourself in a little closer field goal range. The offense had their opportunities in this game. But certainly the offense can't point their finger at the defense, and the defense had a lead when they stepped onto the field in the fourth quarter. And they couldn't protect it.”
Leading 23-17 in the fourth, the Bulldogs defense forced a North Texas punt. Tech took over on its own 22 yard line with 11:10 to play with an opportunity to push the lead to two possessions. A costly holding penalty on second down put Tech behind the chains and the Bulldogs were eventually forced to punt.
“We don't want to set up field goals,” said Smith. “We knew coming into this game that we had to score points, and the biggest way to score points is scoring touchdowns. Field goals, it can help but it can hurt you at the same time because we score a field goal, they get a touchdown, we're down. So whenever we get in the red zone we have to put the ball in the end zone. We've got to find a way to put the ball in the end zone, run the draw, trick plays, it doesn't matter.”
North Texas capitalized. The Mean Green drove 78 yards on nine plays, including a two-yard run on fourth down and one from its own 31-yard line, as Wilson went untouched into the end zone from 14 yards out to tie the game at 23-23. The extra point gave NT a 24-23 lead.
“On the road, I almost did it the one before on fourth-and-two,” said North Texas head coach Seth Littrell on the fourth down conversion. “And felt like we could have made it, maybe pinned them deep, have a shot at field position. At that point in the game I just didn't want them to get the ball back. I felt like that was our time to go. It was kind of a gut call, gut feeling. And it worked out good.”
As he has done time after time this season, Smith led the Bulldogs into possession to take the lead. Tech drove to the NT 34-yard line but two incomplete passes into the end zone and a two-yard loss on a Jarred Craft delayed handoff on second down forced Barnes to try the go-ahead FG from 53 yards out. It sailed wide left, giving NT the ball with 2:39 to play.
Tech wouldn’t see the ball again as Wilson picked up a pair of first downs on the ground to run out the clock.
The Bulldogs rushed for 147 yards in the game, but only 38 came after halftime, as Scott led Tech with 64 yards on 16 carries. Smith completed 16-of-28 passes for 168 yards and no interceptions. Rashid Bonnette caught six passes for 77 yards while Veal added six catches for 50 yards.
Wilson led North Texas with 165 yards and two scores on 20 carries. Fine was 22-of-36 for 203 yards and one touchdown and one interception. Jordan Baldwin and Dae’Von Washington led Tech with nine tackles each while Trey Spencer recorded an interception in his second straight game.
The Bulldogs will return home Saturday to host Florida Atlantic at 2:30 p.m. The Owls are 5-0 in Conference USA action and leading the East Division.
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