The stage seemed set for one final thrilling moment in a career full of them for North Texas quarterback Mason Fine on Saturday.
UNT had the ball at its 33 with 3:15 left in the fourth quarter as Fine trotted on the turf at Apogee Stadium for the final time with the Mean Green trailing UAB by five.
Those pressure situations are ones Fine has thrived in throughout his career, as he has posted one dramatic game-winning drive after another.
This time there would be no miracle touchdown drive. No final win.
UAB made sure of that on Saturday and escaped with a 26-21 win.
The Mean Green’s final possession came down to a battle of two of the elite units in Conference USA.
No quarterback in the league has done more in his career than Fine, who came into the game as the leading active passer in major college football with 12,237 yards. About the only unit in C-USA with a resume to match Fine’s is UAB’s defense, which ranked sixth nationally with an average of 268.1 yards allowed per game heading into the night.
In the end, the Blazers won out, sacking Fine on two of UNT’s final three plays. Will Boler and Alex Wright hauled Fine down on a fourth-and-11 play from the Mean Green’s 42-yard line with 1:12 left, setting off a wild celebration on the UAB sideline
The win clinched the Conference USA West Division title for the Blazers (9-3, 6-2 C-USA).
“It’s a tough way to see it end,” UNT coach Seth Littrell said. “I wanted it so bad for that senior group to go out on a high. That was important to all of us as coaches and players. Unfortunately, that’s life. It didn’t happen today, but that doesn’t take away from who this group is. They have accomplished a lot together.”
That’s certainly true of Fine. He helped lead UNT to bowl games in each of his first three seasons.
The Mean Green were picked to win C-USA’s West Division in the league’s preseason media poll but were out of the running and bowl contention heading into its season finale. UNT (4-8, 3-5) finished with its lowest win total in four seasons under Littrell.
UNT put up a fight, despite having nothing to play for in terms of postseason hopes in front of largely empty stands on a day school officials announced a crowd of 16,406.
“We played our hearts out,” Fine said. “I couldn’t be more proud of this team and the way we fought with nothing at stake other than sending the seniors out the right way.”
UNT just never found a way to crack UAB’s defense. The Mean Green finished with 289 total yards. Fine threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns.
“They played their tails off,” UNT wide receiver Michael Lawrence said of UAB’s defense. “It shows why they are ranked No. 1 in the conference. Give it up to them. They played a heck of a game tonight.”
UNT scored on its fourth play of the game, a 12-yard pass from Fine to Jyaire Shorter.
The game settled into a defensive slugfest from there with neither team leading by more than seven points.
The Mean Green had a 14-10 edge with just 1:38 left in the second quarter before UAB’s offense came to life.
Dylan Hopkins found Kendall Parham deep down the sideline for a 36-yard strike. UNT was then flagged for pass interference on consecutive plays.
Cornerback Cam Johnson was called for the second of those penalties in the end zone, giving UAB the ball at the UNT 2. Lucious Stanley capitalized with a 2-yard run that gave the Blazers a 17-14 lead at halftime.
Spencer Brown led UAB with 111 rushing yards, while Stanley added 72.
UAB stretched its lead to 20-14 on a Nick Vogel 41-yard field goal before UNT answered with a 2-yard strike from Fine to Jaelon Darden in the third quarter.
North Texas coach Seth Littrell spoke earlier this week about how important it was to him to…
UNT appeared as if it would extend its 21-20 lead a short time later when it drove to the UAB 29, where the Mean Green faced a fourth-and-1 situation.
Fine threw the ball over the middle as UAB linebacker Adrienne Talan pressured him. Blazers defensive back TD Marshall intercepted the pass and raced 76 yards for a touchdown.
“We had our chances,” Littrell said. “We got into a rhythm but made some mistakes in the red zone. That is on not just the players but the coaches as well.”
UAB came up big each time UNT had a chance to regain the lead, including on the Mean Green’s final drive.
“I never had a single doubt,” Fine said of UNT’s ability to pull out a win in the closing seconds. “I was confident we were going to go out there, execute and guys would make competitive plays. It didn’t go our way. That’s football.”
The way it ended was particularly bitter for Littrell. Fine was one of the first players he recruited at UNT.
North Texas coach Seth Littrell knew exactly what the Mean Green were set to face on Saturda…
Littrell helped Fine grow into one of UNT’s all-time greats and wanted to send him out on a high note, a goal that eluded the Mean Green on Saturday.
“Mason has meant as much as any player I have been around, not just because of the player he is, because of the person he is,” Littrell said. “He buys into your core values. That is who he is. He is completely unselfish and does whatever he can to help his teammates have success.”
“He is a special player and in my opinion one of the all-time greats.”