DENTON, Texas — A tough way to start league play.
North Texas broke a 21-all tie by scoring 17 unanswered points in the final 19 minutes of regulation Saturday night while handing visiting Marshall a 38-21 setback in its Conference USA opener at Apogee Stadium in the Lone Star State.
The Thundering Herd (1-4, 0-1 CUSA) dropped their fourth consecutive decision — a first under seventh-year MU coach Doc Holliday — and never led in the contest, despite keeping things competitive through three quarters of play.
The Mean Green (3-3, 2-1), however, used a punishing ground attack that ultimately wore down Marshall’s run defense, including a late third quarter blow that ultimately sealed the deal on the outcome.
After Ryan Yurachek hauled in a one-yard touchdown pass from Chase Litton to knot things up at 21 with four minutes remaining in the third, UNT countered with a two-play, 87-yard drive that concluded with a 72-yard touchdown run by Jeffrey Wilson — making it a 28-21 contest with 3:15 left.
The Mean Green went on to add a 31-yard field goal by Trevor Moore at the 4:26 mark of the fourth quarter for a 31-21 edge, then Eric Jenkins picked off a Litton pass and returned it 52 yards to paydirt for a 38-21 cushion with 2:35 left in regulation.
North Texas outgained MU by a sizable 458-271 overall margin in total yards of offense, which included a hefty 252-13 advantage in rushing yards. Marshall finished the day plus-1 in turnover differential and both teams scored seven points apiece on takeaways.
The Mean Green opened the game by marching 75 yards in 11 plays to take an early 7-0 advantage as Wilson capped things with a four-yard run at the 10:22 mark of the first period.
Litton countered with his first career rushing touchdown after plunging in from six yards out at the 1:03 mark, tying things up at seven while also capping a four-play, 14-yard scoring drive that was set up by a fumble recovery by C.J. Reavis at the UNT 14.
North Texas responded with a resounding 13-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a seven-point halftime lead as Mason Fine scored on a six-yard run at the 10:33 mark of the second canto for a 14-7 advantage.
The Herd wasted little time getting out of the second half gates as Keion Davis returned the opening kickoff 99 yards to paydirt, allowing the guests to tie things up at 14-all just 13 seconds into the third quarter.
Both teams traded punts on their ensuing possessions, then the Mean Green covered 80 yards in 13 plays to secure a 21-14 advantage. Tyler Wilson hauled in an 11-yard pass from Fine with 6:31 remaining in the third to complete the scoring drive.
Marshall responded with an eight-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in the Litton to Yurachek score that knotted things up at 21-all with four minutes remaining.
North Texas claimed a 23-16 advantage in first downs and was also penalized 10 times for 78 yards, compared to the Herd’s six flags for 70 yards.
Marshall rushed the ball 28 times for just 13 yards in the contest and also produced 258 yards through the air. UNT, conversely, ran the ball 54 times for 252 yards (4.7 average) and also had 206 yards in the passing game.
Davis led the MU rushing attack with 33 yards on 14 carries, followed by Anthony Anderson with seven yards on six totes.
Litton finished the day 20-of-42 passing for 258 yards, throwing one pick and one touchdown. Litton was also credited with eight rushes for negative 27 yards after being sacked five times.
Michael Clark led the Marshall wideouts with eight catches for 122 yards, followed by Deon-Tay McManus with four grabs for 53 yards.
Amoreto Curraj was a perfect 3-for-3 on extra point attempts, but also missed first half field goal tries of 48 yards and 42 yards.
Gary Thompson led the MU defense with 10 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Omari Cobb (2.0) and Ryan Bee (1.5) also had sacks in the setback, with Kendall Gant and Rodney Allen also adding eight tackles apiece.
Jeffrey Wilson paced the UNT ground game with 188 yards on 26 carries, followed by Willy Ivery with 42 yards on 11 attempts.
Mason Fine finished the day 18-of-28 passing for 206 yards and a TD pass. Thaddeous Thompson led the Mean Green wideouts with with five grabs for 68 yards.
After a two-game road trip, Marshall returns home Saturday when it welcomes Florida Atlantic for a 7 p.m. contest at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.