Ridge Texada was convinced he was a Football Bowl Subdivision player long before anyone else believed in him.
Texada was considered far too small even as a cornerback at 5-foot-8.
The former McNeese State backup continued to show he’s a lot better than people ever thought he could be on Saturday during a 45-28 win over Florida Atlantic at Apogee Stadium that helped UNT jump into the thick of the Conference USA title chase.
Texada returned an interception 58 yards for a touchdown and brought another pick back 60 yards to the FAU 1 to set up another touchdown in a memorable performance for a player who moved up from the Football Subdivision ranks.
Those two key plays and a big day from quarterback Austin Aune were more than enough for the Mean Green to bounce back from a tough trip through nonconference play and keep their perfect run in Conference USA play going.
UNT (3-3) has now won seven straight games in C-USA play dating back to last season, when it won its last five conference games of the year.
UNT picked up where it left off with a win over UTEP to open the season and is now 2-0 in conference this year after an impressive win over FAU (2-4, 1-1). The Owls took Purdue to the wire last week before falling 28-26.
“We have a really good football team,” UNT coach Seth Littrell said. “We hadn’t put it together on all three phases. We did a better job of that today.
“Last year we got on a roll and built our confidence. The more you put them together, the more the confidence is there. Opening 2-0 will help us with that momentum.”
UNT will host Louisiana Tech on Oct. 15 after a bye week. The Mean Green will then face UTSA and Western Kentucky on the road in consecutive weeks.
UTSA beat WKU in last season’s C-USA championship game.
UNT will head into that stretch on a roll after Texada’s big day. The former Frisco Centennial standout came into the day with a team high four pass breakups despite being in and out of the lineup. He started for the fourth time this season on Saturday.
“It’s rewarding for sure,” Texada said. “I worked hard in the offseason. I have been through a lot of ups and downs. It’s finally paying off.”
The Mean Green dominated most of the first half and were in position to pull away late in the first half after taking a 28-7 lead, thanks in part to Texada.
Aune hit Shorter for a 2-yard touchdown and also connected with him on a pair of 25-yard strikes.
Texada made his first big play when he broke up what appeared to be a sure touchdown with a leaping deflection and later scored on his interception return.
UNT had the ball at the FAU 41-yard line and had a chance to build on that lead when FAU safety Teja Young intercepted an Aune pass and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown.
“The pick sixes have to stop for me,” Aune said. “I put a little pressure on us, but we responded coming out of half.”
The mistake was one of the few Aune made. He finished with 180 passing yards to go along with this three touchdowns. Shorter’s three touchdown catches were his only receptions of the day and covered 52 yards.
The Owls came up with another big play late in the first half following Young’s interception return. FAU had the ball at the UNT 35, where the Owls faced a third-and-10 situation with 21 seconds left.
FAU quarterback N’Kosi Perry hit running back Larry McCammon in the flat. He broke a tackle and raced down the sideline for a touchdown that cut UNT’s lead to 28-21 at halftime.
Perry threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns.
Texaada helped UNT push its lead back to 42-21 after intercepting his second pass of the day. Safety Quinn Whitlock deflected a pass into the air that Texada grabbed and returned 60 yards to the FAU 1.
Isaiah Johnson scored on the next play to give UNT its 21-point lead.
The Mean Green cruised from there on a memorable day for Texada, who is in his second season at UNT.
He started three games last season and has been in and out of the lineup this season as UNT has battled injuries in its secondary.
The Mean Green lost John Davis Jr. to injury in their season-opening win over UTEP. Texada started the next two weeks before coming off the bench in loss to UNLV.
Texada was back in the lineup last week in UNT’s loss to Memphis.
He doesn’t appear to be going anywhere now. Not after his breakout game against FAU.
“It was awesome to see a guy like that make those plays,” Littrell said. “I am fired up for Ridge. He played a heck of a game.”