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Football Falls in C-USA Opener to North Texas 43-28

Sept. 30, 2017

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HATTIESBURG, Miss. - Conference USA's top offense eventually had its way with one of the league's top defenses.

Southern Miss saw an early, two-touchdown lead buried under an avalanche of 26 unanswered North Texas points Saturday night as the Mean Green left M.M. Roberts Stadium with a 43-28 victory before 21,907.

The Mean Green had come into the game averaging 503.5 yards total offense and 37.8 points an outing, while the Golden Eagles had held opponents to 241.3 yards and 13.7 points per game.

Saturday, North Texas (3-2, 2-0 C-USA) rolled up 540 yards, with most of the damage being inflicted in the second and third quarters.

"It's a tough loss," USM coach Jay Hopson said. "I thought we played well into the end of the first half.

"I don't think we played well in the third or fourth quarter."

The Golden Eagles (2-2, 0-1) had leads of 14-0 and 21-7 in the first half, but the Mean Green scored 26 consecutive points in the second and third quarters to build enough of a cushion to beat Southern Miss for a second consecutive season.

"I think it's a huge momentum boost," North Texas coach Seth Littrell said.

Southern Miss running back Ito Smith followed the first 200-yard game of his career with the first 100-yard game of the season, finishing with 102 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, including a 65-yard touchdown run that put the Golden Eagles up 21-7 early in the second quarter.

Smith also caught two passes for 47 yards, including a 45-yarder that set up USM's first touchdown.

Kwadra Griggs completed19 of 42 passes for a career-high 277 yards and a touchdown, and also logged his first rushing touchdown as a Golden Eagle.

Allenzae Staggers hauled in five passes for a season-high 112 yards and a touchdown, scoring for the third consecutive game.

But it was too much UNT quarterback Mason Fine, running back Jeffery Wilson and receiver Jalen Guyton.

Fine completed 24 of 40 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Fine did most of his damage in the middle two quarters, completing, 20 of 31 passes for 307 yards with touchdowns to Guyton (2 yards) and Rico Bussey (16 yards).

Wilson, C-USA's leading rusher at 129.5 yards per game, ran for 148 yards on 30 carries and tie his career-best with three touchdowns. He scored on a 46-yard run on fourth-and-1 opportunity in the first quarter and added scoring runs of 43 yards and 6 yards in the second half.

His final touchdown kept the Golden Eagles at bay after they had closed to within 33-28 on the final play of the third quarter on Smith's 4-yard run.

"We were in it the whole game," Smith said. "I never lost hope. They made some good plays. That was a good team."

But the Mean Green regained the momentum, marching 75 yards in eight plays with Wilson slicing his way through the crowd near the goal line to push North Texas' lead back to 12 points.

Guyton, who had 10 catches in North Texas' first four games, grabbed a career-best 14 receptions for 211 yards and a score.

USM took the opening kickoff and went 75 yards in nine plays. Smith's 45-yard catch-and-run set up the Golden Eagles at the Mean Green's 7-yard line, and Staggers took a flip pass from Griggs around the right edge to give USM a 7-0 lead.

The Golden Eagles went up 14-0 when Griggs capped a 64-yard drive with a 4-yard run.

Wilson's first touchdown cut the lead back to 14-7 at the end of the first quarter, but Smith pushed the lead back to two touchdowns when he broke off USM's longest play of the season, scoring from 65 yards out.

But it was nearly all UNT after that.

Fine found Guyton with a 2-yard pass to cap a 95-yard drive that started with Wilson nearly being caught in the end zone for a safety.

Trevor Moore kicked the first of his three field goals on the final play of the first half, with his 48-yarder pulling the Mean Green within 21-17 at halftime.

Moore's 20-yard field goal got UNT within a point early in the third quarter at 21-20 before the Mean Green took the lead for good on Fine's fade to Bussey on the far left edge of the end zone.

Wilson rambled 43 yards to give UNT a 12-point lead before Smith got USM back within striking distance.

But USM would not score in the final quarter and Wilson's final TD run and Moore's 44-yard field goal provided UNT's final edge.

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