BERKELEY, Calif. — Mason Fine has come up with plenty of memorable drives in his decorated career at North Texas.

The stage seemed set for another on Saturday, when the Mean Green took on California.

The senior quarterback had the program record for career touchdown passes in his back pocket and the ball with 1:51 left while trailing by six.

All that stood between Fine and another memorable game-winner was 65 yards of freshly cut grass and a Cal defense UNT coach Seth Littrell called one of the best in the country.

That was too much for the Mean Green to overcome in a 23-17 loss at California Memorial Stadium.

Cal held UNT without a yard on its final drive. Fine’s pass to Austin Ogunmakin fell incomplete on fourth down.

“I had tremendous confidence going out there,” Fine said. “You have to credit Cal. They did a great job defensively, mixed it up and didn’t let us drive it. They made the plays.”

Cal’s late stand spoiled UNT’s opportunity to post what would have been a significant upset and another milestone day in Fine’s career.

The senior became UNT’s all-time leader in career touchdown passes by pushing his total to 71 with two touchdown passes against Cal. He came into the day tied with UNT Hall of Famer Steve Ramsey with 69 and was just 48 yards short of becoming the first player in program history to throw for 10,000 yards.

Fine reached both marks in UNT’s loss to Cal, not that it meant much to him on a day the Mean Green fell to 1-2 on the season.

“It doesn’t mean a lot,” Fine said of the records. “My number one mission is to win football games.”

UNT wasn’t expected to have much of a chance win at Cal, a team that knocked off national power Washington last week.

The Mean Green had a chance to pull it off due to a terrific performance by its defense after a slow start.

“I like the way our team grew,” Littrell said. “You could see it throughout the game. Our defense stepped up. We outplayed them in the second half.”

It’s what happened in the first half that put UNT in a tough spot it ultimately couldn’t overcome against Cal (3-0).

The Bears defense dominated from the outset and held UNT to 100 yards of offense in the first half.

Chase Garbers hit Nikko Remigio for a 36-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 20-0 lead late in the first quarter.

Cal managed just a field goal the rest of the way, despite a solid day from its quarterback. Garbers threw for 129 yards and rushed for 70.

“We started executing a little better,” UNT defensive lineman Dion Novil said. “The coaches told us what we were doing wrong and fixed those mistakes.”

UNT’s play defensively in the second half gave the Mean Green a chance to rally.

Fine took advantage while throwing for 210 yards and two touchdowns. That might not sound all the impressive, but those touchdown passes stood out because they came against the Bears’ elite secondary.

Cal had gone 17 straight quarters without giving up a touchdown pass.

Fine eventually broke through after seeing the way the Bears were trying to contain UNT.

“I was seeing the movement of the safeties in the second half,” Fine said. “I knew where the grass was going to be at and where the call was at.”

Fine capitalized while guiding UNT on a 14-play drive that resulted in an Ethan Mooney field goal to get the Mean Green on the board.

Fine became UNT’s all-time leader in touchdown passes a short time later with 70 after Jaelon Darden took a swing pass and broke free down the sideline for a 68-yard touchdown.

Cal answered with a Greg Thomas field goal in the third quarter to 23-10.

That was all the Golden Bears managed against UNT’s defense in the second half.

“They weren’t beating us physically,” UNT linebacker KD Davis said of Cal’s early surge. “It was mental. We went out there and executed.”

The way UNT’s defense played late opened up the door for a comeback, one the Mean Green appeared as if they might barge through after Fine guided UNT on a nine-play, 80-yard drive. Jyaire Shorter capped the march by hauling in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Fine on fourth-and-7 with 2:59 left.

“We felt like it was going our way late,” Novil said. “Our defense was clicking.”

Unfortunately for UNT, so was Cal’s when it mattered on that final drive, when the Bears spoiled a record-setting night for Fine.

“We came here to win a football game,” Littrell said. “Every week we line up we expect to win. There are no moral victories, but if you give it your all, that’s all you can ask.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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